One of the unique features of the eco-friendly Expanded Polystyrene or EPS (link to more about EPS page) is its ability to be recycled. This reduces the environmental impact of this material.
Benefits of EPS recycling
EPS recycling can be done in a number of ways. Pure scrap can, for example, be:
- Ground down and used to produce new EPS
- Mixed with soil as a composting aid
- Used as a lightweight aggregate for concrete and insulating mortars
- Melted in an extruder and used as solid polystyrene feedstock in other plastic processing industries
More than ten tons of EPS are currently recycled per month and used to produce picture frames. Waste EPS is used as follows:
- In feedstock recycling where it is used as a chemical source to produce other materials such as crude carbon in steel manufacture
- Broken down and mixed with refuse to be burnt as fuel or to fill landfills where it promotes aeration and breaks down the organic matter.
- Expanded polystyrene packaging can be and is being recycled throughout Europe and in many other parts of the world.
For any recyclable product, the resource equations must balance. Hence, care must be taken to ensure that the energy used to recycle EPS packaging balances the energy gained or saved from the material.
Waste management options for EPS
Like most packaging materials, there are several waste management options for EPS and this can be broadly categorized into the 4 R’s, namely:
Landfill is considered a last resort for disposal.
- Reduce: Reduction in the use of natural resources. This is done by using packaging design and technology in such a way that minimum quantities of EPS are used, reducing the cost and burden on the environment. The used packaging can continue to be used in various ways.
- Re-use: Multi-trip use of EPS foam or re-use in a different or modified form. It can be used in the transportation of semi-assembled material, re-used by grinding it and integrated into the soil as soil conditioner, helping in aeration and drainage. EPS is made into seed and pot holding trays for use in gardening.
- Recycle: The reprocessing of used EPS packaging resulting in new or existing uses without energy recovery. Uses include hardwood replacement for garden furniture, in roofing material and recycled plastic items like CD covers.
- Recover: Retrieval of inherent calorific value through incineration with heat/energy recovery. EPS’ calorific value is higher than that of coal. It can therefore be burnt in energy recovery units without toxic emissions.
- Landfill: Least acceptable because it represents a missed opportunity to recover valuable resources. If this is unavoidable, EPS being non-toxic, odour-free and non-biodegradable does no ecological harm. It does not add to ground water spillage or atmosphere emissions.
EPS recycling – How it works
Isolite has an EPS recycling process in place. It involves the following steps:
- Compaction – where the EPS is compacted to reduce its original size for easy transportation
- Collection – to the recycling location
- Blending – where the EPS goes through a blender
- Extrusion – where the EPS passes through an extruder and melts
The recycled EPS is now ready to be moulded into a new item.