EPS is Recycled “at Scale and in Practice” Worldwide

The Ellen MacArthur Foun­da­tion is one of the most impor­tant char­i­ties in the world devel­op­ing and pro­mot­ing the con­cept of a cir­cu­lar econ­o­my by work­ing with busi­ness­es, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and aca­d­e­mics. On 30 March 2023, the Foun­da­tion pub­lished its “Plas­tic Ini­tia­tive 2023 Recy­cling Rate Sur­vey” in which Expand­ed Poly­styrene (EPS) for insu­lat­ed and pro­tec­tive pack­ag­ing is no longer cov­ered by the “Glob­al Com­mit­ment” (https://www.unep.org/new-plastics-economy-global-commitment), as it is recog­nised by the Ellen MacArthur Foun­da­tion that EPS trans­port pack­ag­ing (insu­lat­ed and pro­tec­tive) is recy­cled at “scale and in prac­tice” across the world. This a step for­ward for EPS indus­tries which put sus­tain­abil­i­ty and cir­cu­lar econ­o­my at the core of their ambi­tions for a bet­ter Europe.


The excel­lent result of the EPS recy­cling rate in Europe

The Ellen MacArthur Foun­da­tion sets very spe­cif­ic cri­te­ria when it comes to val­i­dat­ing the recy­cla­bil­i­ty of plas­tic mate­ri­als: “The test and thresh­old to assess if the recy­cla­bil­i­ty of a pack­ag­ing design is proven “in prac­tice and at scale” for the Glob­al Com­mit­ment are: does that pack­ag­ing achieve a 30% post-con­sumer recy­cling rate in mul­ti­ple regions, col­lec­tive­ly rep­re­sent­ing at least 400 mil­lion inhab­i­tants?”, defines the Foun­da­tion. These cri­te­ria are applied by the Unit­ed Nations Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­gramme in the nego­ti­a­tions regard­ing the Inter­na­tion­al Treaty on Plas­tic Pol­lu­tion, a legal­ly bind­ing agree­ment on plas­tic pol­lu­tion by 2024 agreed by 175 nations across the world.

Through an ini­tia­tive of the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion EPS-branchen (Den­mark) which met with the Ellen MacArthur Foun­da­tion to dis­cuss the prop­er­ties of EPS, the data shared by the EPS indus­try was con­sid­ered by the Foun­da­tion and proved that EPS used for insu­lat­ed and pro­tec­tive pack­ag­ing meets the cri­te­ria to val­i­date the recy­cla­bil­i­ty of mate­r­i­al at “scale and in practice”.

Indeed, in the Euro­pean Union, the EPS post-con­sumer pack­ag­ing recy­cling rate is approx­i­mate­ly 40%, while in North Amer­i­ca the recy­cling rate exceeds 30% (above 50% for Japan, Chi­na and South Korea). Some Euro­pean coun­tries shine with excel­lent recy­cling rates: in Nor­way, for instance, the recy­cling rate exceeds 70% while in Den­mark, Por­tu­gal, Bel­gium, Aus­tria and Ire­land the recy­cling rate is above 50%. Fur­ther­more, EPS recy­cling rates also exceed 30% in Brazil.

After hav­ing reviewed the data pre­sent­ed, the Ellen MacArthur Foun­da­tion acknowl­edged EPS fish box­es and white goods EPS pro­tec­tive pack­ag­ing are indeed not only recy­clable but actu­al­ly recy­cled. EPS Branchen, EUMEPS mem­ber and Dan­ish EPS Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion, pub­lished a detailed memo on the matter.


When the EPS recy­cling rates in Europe go beyond expectations

All data sub­mit­ted via gov­ern­ment sources also showed that EPS post-con­sumer recy­cling cov­ers 35 coun­tries from 4 glob­al regions with a pop­u­la­tion of at least 4.2 bil­lion peo­ple, thus sur­pass­ing the cri­te­ria of 400 mil­lion set by the Ellen MacArthur Foun­da­tion by 650%. Not only does the EPS indus­try for insu­lat­ed and pro­tec­tive pack­ag­ing meet these cri­te­ria, but it also sur­pass­es them!

More­over, when apply­ing the Ellen Macarthur Foun­da­tion cri­te­ria to com­pare the pop­u­la­tion with the assess­ment of recy­cling for oth­er pack­ag­ing mate­ri­als, EPS post-con­sumer recy­cling is the sec­ond most recy­cled plas­tic pack­ag­ing mea­sured by pop­u­la­tion. If only look­ing at the gov­ern­ment data and pop­u­la­tion for 2018, then EPS is the third most recy­cled pack­ag­ing mate­r­i­al in the world. It should also be not­ed that insu­lat­ed and pro­tec­tive EPS pack­ag­ing only rep­re­sents a mar­gin­al share of plas­tic pack­ag­ing pro­duced across the world, sig­nif­i­cant­ly below 0.2%.

Final­ly, these excel­lent results should also be put in per­spec­tive with the Con­ver­sio study, “The EPS Indus­try Jour­ney towards Cir­cu­lar­i­ty”, pub­lished by EUMEPS which also clear­ly demon­strates the engage­ment of Euro­pean EPS indus­tries to recy­cla­bil­i­ty and cir­cu­lar­i­ty. Nev­er­the­less, the entire Euro­pean EPS indus­try is thrilled to see that efforts made in the last years to keep increas­ing the recy­cling of the mate­r­i­al to achieve cir­cu­lar­i­ty and keep increas­ing recy­cling have been recog­nised by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation.

AuthorIngrid Morin