There are many different types of packaging on the market: cardboard, plastic, extruded polystyrene, expanded polystyrene and many more. In this edition of our newsletter, we will help you learn more on expanded polystyrene packaging and their environmental impact.
Polystyrene life cycle
The CIRAIG™ (International Reference Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services) conducted a study on the environmental impact of packaging products in the food industry. Trays made of seven different materials have been studied: #1 plastic (PET), recycled #1 plastic (RPET), #5 plastic (PP), oriented #6 plastic (OPS), #6 expanded plastic (EPS), #7 plastic (PLA), and moulded pulp used for eggs (MP).
The study compiled every manufacturing step as well as impacts on human health and environment. The results are impressive: Expanded #6 plastic (EPS), also called polystyrene, “foam” or even “Styrofoam“, is second to pulp! It has been shown that polystyrene is one of the least harmful packaging materials.
On the other hand, the most harmful material, taking life cycle into account, is plastic #7 (PLA), most often called “compostable dinnerware”.
For more information on CIRAIG, visit http://www.ciraig.org/
For more information on the products used in that study, visit https://www.cascades.com/en/sustainable-development/commitment/responsibility-on-products-and-services/
EPS vs. cardboard packaging
Many differences between cardboard and expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging have been exposed by a study conducted by BASF. As per this study, EPS requires six times less energy to manufacture than cardboard. Moreover, critical air volume shows a lower atmospheric pollution rate for EPS.
Despite many believes polystyrene is not harmful for health or environment. In fact, in order to reach the same water pollution rate, we need to produce 20 times as much EPS than cardboard. BASF study also demonstrated that EPS’s global warming potential (GWP) is lower than cardboard. However, EPS discharge space is greater than cardboard; nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that many recycling technologies reduce this statistic more and more.
Source: Kunststoff “EPS and corrugated cardboard, a life cycle study”, BASF, 10836 Berlin, 1992, 9 pages.
Another study focused on the effects of the EPS television packaging: It proved that EPS impact on the ozone layer is non-significant and that packaging transport’s impact are minimal.
Did you know that, in television packaging, cardboard is responsible for:
94% of water eutrophication (pollution caused by an excess of nutrients);
74% of waste production;
51% of water consumption?
Source: EUMEPS packaging – May 2002
EPS and environment
We believe that a small package offering an effective protection of the end product is the key to being ecological. Keep in mind that it is more eco-responsible to properly pack an item in order for it to get to its destination in good state; it is the best way to avoid costs due to poor packaging. It also reduces pollution caused by transport and repair or manufacturing of a replacement item. For these reasons, among others, expanded polystyrene’s impact on environment is negligible. It is also important to take into consideration that environmental impact rests on many types of packaging, as 40% to 50% of goods are packaged in plastic, but it consists only 10% of the total weigh of all packages types, leaving a large proportion for many other components.
EPS can be recycled up to 20 times without degrading its physical properties. Moreover, this material is made of 98% air and only 2% material, making it extremely light and reducing gas consumption during transport. Expanded polystyrene is also 100% recoverable and has a controlled end of life, meaning that it is possible to recover, recycle and upgrade it by transforming it into another product.
Source: PACKSCOPE NO.30. February 2007