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Resource efficient protection

Annette Schaefer, secretary of the association of European expanded polystyrene manufacturers EUMEPS, says recent studies show that EPS remains a tried, trusted and sustainable solution for packaging applications

Packaging methods are increasingly being assessed from the aspect of sustainability. It is often overlooked that the principle of sustainability is not just limited to ecological factors, but takes equal account of economic and social aspects. Sustainable packaging, therefore, means economical, consumer friendly and environmentally reponsible packaging.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging meets these requirements in various ways. Two Life Cycle Assessments on packaging applications conducted in 2011 by EUMEPS Packaging – in co-operation with PriceWaterhouseCoopers and technical services provider TÜV Rheinland – proved that compared with other materials, the particular ecological advantage of EPS packaging lies in low residual waste. In addition, according to the studies, the processing of EPS produces the lowest emissions into water and air.

EPS is extremely resource efficient, since it contains 98% air and just 2% polystyrene. Due to its high air content, EPS is extremely shock absorbent and has outstanding thermal insulation properties. As well as foodstuffs, EPS is also perfect for the protection of sensitive electronic equipment and many kinds of white goods.

Unpackaged or incorrectly packaged, many foodstuffs spoil because they are not in the right packaging. Helping to avoid this, EPS packaging preserves more resources than are consumed in its production. For example, the energy expenditure for providing 4kg of fresh trout is 10 times higher than for the EPS box over its entire life.

The difference is even more pronounced with wild sea fish. A fish box made from EPS for 20kg of fresh fish uses only 1/20th of the energy used for providing 20kg of wild cod. If the fish goes off because it has not been adequately protected, this energy use has burdened the climate unnecessarily – and the same amount is caused again for the production of its replacement. EPS packaging guarantees a longer shelf life, and that is good for the climate.

After use, EPS is well suited for recycling. In Europe, 200,000 tonnes were collected and recycled in 2009, mostly in Germany, The Netherlands, Austria, Scandinavia and the UK.

Since many countries aim to minimise the use of landfill sites, EPS packaging is often re-used as insulation material. Thanks to material recycling, used EPS packaging can also be transformed back into the original material, which can then be processed into new packaging, or different high quality consumer goods such as CD cases or clothes hangers.

This eliminates one of the most energy intensive steps in the life of any packaging: the production of the raw material.

Alternatively, EPS can also produce heat when thermally reclaimed. One kilogram of EPS can replace around 1.4 litres of heating oil: again, this saves resources. All these efficient recycling options have a positive effect on the entire energy balance.

Another example of the high added value of the correct packaging option is the safe transport of TV sets. The energy expenditure for providing one TV set is approximately 70 times higher than for the production of an effective packaging system containing EPS parts, LPDE film and board. On their own, the production of the EPS parts, which fulfil the most important cushioning function, only uses 1/200th of the energy used for the production of a TV set.

EPS packaging guarantees maximum packaging performance with the least possible material consumption.

The low transport weight of the material reduces vehicle CO2 emissions.

Damage avoided during transportation saves valuable resources, since the disposal of the damaged product, and its replacement, would require a much higher amount of energy.

The most recent findings on the excellent ecological results of the EPS manufacturing process therefore show that using EPS packaging solutions is not only a sustainable choice, but also a valuable economic and social decision.

Annette Schaefer Annette Schaefer Efficient packaging for fresh fish Fresh fish