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Take a New Look at Polystyrene Packaging

Sustainability Toolkit Reveals Surprising Environmental Benefits Of Expanded Polystyrene Transport Packaging

CROFTON, MD, JUNE 5, 2009 ― The EPS Industry Alliance (EPS-IA) has just released “Thinking Clean, Acting Green”, a new environmental toolkit focusing on expanded polystyrene (EPS) transport packaging. Designed especially for original equipment manufacturers, it provides detailed information about EPS in simple, user-friendly terms that re-examines common misperceptions and further demonstrates how EPS is playing an important role in sustainability. The toolkit includes extensive life cycle information from third party sources, recycling guidelines to establish internal collection programs and a packaging insert to promote increased consumer access to EPS recycling.

The toolkit offers extensive life cycle data, including an EPS Environmental Profile Analysis that quantifies resource use, energy use and environmental emissions associated with manufacturing and distribution.  In this cradle-to-grave assessment ― from raw material acquisition to processing, transportation and final disposition ― the study shows that as recycling increases, atmospheric and waterborne emissions decrease by up to 9%, while energy use can achieve a 14% reduction depending on the level of recycled content and the actual recycling method.

This is a key aspect of the sustainability equation with clear benefits beyond solid waste management alone. EPS-IA's 2008 EPS Recycling Rate Report, complied by R.W. Beck, reports an overall 41% recycling rate; with almost 20% representing post-consumer and post-commercial collection. EPS is one of the most widely recycled foam cushioning materials demonstrating a high recycling rate among the plastics family; however, increased participation is needed to make further progress.

As OEMs refine their own sustainability initiatives, EPS-IA offers tools to help build EPS into their programs. PS: Think Recycling is a step-by-step guide on how to implement an EPS recycling program. Another valuable tool is a sample packaging insert that companies can customize for their individual use. Placed in shipping containers, or included in web content, it explains how EPS packaging supports basic sustainability principles through safe product delivery and offers resources on recycling access.

Safe product delivery is an elementary function of transport packaging. Yet, it is not typically quantified from an environmental perspective, but merely stipulated as a prerequisite. However, product damage can be measured in environmental terms – in re-manufacture, re-transportation and disposal of the damaged goods. Products packaged in EPS result in lower damage rates in a variety of key applications. This should perhaps be the first point of measurement when considering the environmental tradeoffs between cushioning material choices. The impacts of remanufacture for a light fixture or 40” television far outweigh a minor discrepancy in energy use for manufacturing between two packaging materials.

While there are some cases where EPS can be replaced by alternative materials without jeopardizing performance, many companies that attempt to eliminate EPS simply cannot find suitable replacements. Green washing – the practice of over-inflating or misstating environmental claims – can be intentional, but most often is unintentional. In either case, the responsibility to verify environmental performance claims rests squarely on the user. With this new toolkit EPS-IA hopes to set the stage for a new level of data transparency by relying on third-party resources and information that is easily transferred from the theoretical into practical application.

A copy of a CD-Rom with all the OEM Sustainability Toolkit materials also is available from the EPS Industry Alliance, 410-451-8340 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Additional Resources

The EPS Industry Alliance offers a mail-back option for those that do have access to a local recycling program. Because the EPS is extremely lightweight, postage costs - paid by the shipper - can be more economical than the mileage to transport it otherwise. The EPS-IA website provides a list of mail-back locations and complete instructions to help facilitate the process.

Consumer Drop-Off Locations are listed on EPS-IA's website. This is a current list of EPS manufacturers and recyclers that accept EPS packaging from the public for recycling.

A list of National Large-Volume Recyclers is also provided on the EPS-IA site.  These recyclers accept large quantities of EPS from commercial sources.

The Peanut Hotline is a national reuse program for plastic loosefill packaging, known as ‘packing peanuts’. Reuse locations can be identified via a search engine by zip code or by calling 1-800-282-2214.