Expanded Polystyrene or Styrofoam as many call it is one of the most widely used plastics due to its useful properties that lend themselves well to a variety of different uses.
Older generations will remember expanded polystyrene as a material that was bad for the environment as in the past the material was made using Chlorofluorocarbons that were later identified as causing damage to the ozone layer. This has subsequently changed and expanded polystyrene plastics these days are an environmentally friendly polymer with excellent rates of recycling.
What Is it Used For?
All sorts of things. In short, we are surrounded by the stuff! This material is incredibly lightweight, after all, it consists of between 95 to 98% air! It also possesses excellent insulating, durable and waterproof properties that make it the perfect choice for a variety of different products
• Packaging for transport
• Packaging material for food and beverages
• Insulated panels for construction
• Flotation devices
• Child seats
• Bicycle helmets
• Ice boxes & coolers
• Seed trays
The Major Downside
The lightweight nature and bulk of this material means that it can easily become litter. This is not the type of material that you can expect to stay put. EPS is particularly tricky to handle in the open air; just one gust of wind and it is off!
Polystyrene debris and litter polluting our land and seas is unsightly and the materials incredible resistance to sunlight, oxygen and water means it take a very long time to biodegrade.
Targeting The Takeaway Industry
Green minded local authorities and business owners are keen to look for suitable alternatives for the sorts of single use take away cartons that are more likely to wind up littering the environment after keeping someone chips warm.
Countries including India, Taiwan and China have already implemented a ban on the use of polystyrene containers, but compliance has been a major issue.
Green Minded Businesses Getting On Board
Businesses in the UK are recycling tonnes of EPS annually and packaging companies in particular are demonstrating their commitment to minimising waste by collecting, reusing and recycling this material responsibly.
With a limited number of recycling points across the UK set up to process this material, it makes good sense to collect and reuse packaging materials that have not been contaminated with any other substance and are perfectly fine for reuse. Many EPS packaging products can be used repeatedly.
Is EPS A Sustainable Material?
Recent years have seen EPS recycled and used in some exciting new ways in the construction industry. One great development has been the recycling of EPS into an incredibly durable wood substitute, most suitable for outdoor application in the form of balconies, trellises, fence posts and decking boards.
Wood substitutes are far more durable than natural wood and reduce the need to harvest hardwoods from rainforests, saving our natural resources and minimising the environmental impact created by transporting hardwoods long distances overseas.
Professionals within the construction industry are choosing EPS for its low environmental impact, as experts have concluded that the energy saved through using this material to insulate properties counteracts any environmental impact of the production stage.
In transportation as a packing material, the protection EPS gives to items and products in transit reduces the damages that would otherwise lead to discarded items and the subsequent production of new ones. The fact that the material is so lightweight also minimises fuel consumption making it an all round excellent choice!
It would be fantastic to see the single use application of this versatile material reduced, concentrating on the best uses for the material, such as reusable packaging, energy saving construction materials and products with a reasonable lifespan.
EPS is undoubtedly a sustainable material and with such a broad spectrum of uses, it was clearly an excellent invention.