What is EUMEPS?
The Association for European Manufacturers of Expanded Polystyrene (EUMEPS) is the voice of the Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) industry in Europe. More information in our about page.
What is polystyrene?
Polystyrene is an organic compound consisting of hydrogen and carbon. Polystyrene is chemically very inert, being resistant to acids and bases but is easily dissolved by many chlorinated solvents, and many aromatic hydrocarbon solvents.
What is polystyrene foam?
The term polystyrene foam applies to two types of materials that have very different production methods and technical functions but are frequently confused. One is called EPS (or Expanded Polystyrene), the other is called XPS (or Extruded Polystyrene).
What is expanded polystyrene (EPS)?
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is widely used commodity polymer. It has been a material of choice for more than 50 years because of its versatility, lightweight, reliable insulation characteristics, and cost effectiveness. It is widely used in many everyday applications, such as fish boxes, bicycle helmets and insulation material.
EPS was invented by Dr. Fritz Stastny, a scientist working at BASF in Germany in 1949, whereas Styrofoam is a trademark that belongs to Dow Chemical and which relates to XPS. It was discovered in 1941. In many countries EPS is also known by its local brand name e.g. In Denmark it is often referred to as Flamingo, while in Sweden it is called Frigolit and in Germany it is called Styropor.
How is EPS made?
EPS is produced from a special EPS raw material, which consists of solid beads of polystyrene with added pentane. Expansion is achieved when heat in the form of steam is applied to the raw material. This results in the gas expanding and forming closed cells of EPS. These cells occupy approximately 40 times the volume of the original polystyrene bead. By comparison this would be the same as expanding a tennis ball to the size of a basketball. When EPS has been expanded it consists of 98% air and 2% polystyrene. As a single polymer material, it is easy to recycle.
Is EPS recyclable?
Yes. EPS is 100% recyclable. It is recycled worldwide and on every inhabited continent. EPS is an environment friendly plastic, easy to identify and worth collecting. There are many different ways to recycle EPS, such as mechanical recycling, dissolution and chemical recycling.
EUMEPS has pledged to bring EPS recycling rates to 46% in 2025, and is an active participant in the Circular Plastic Alliance which aims to boost the market in recycled plastic to 10 million tonnes by 2025.
What are the disposal options for EPS waste?
At the end of the very long service life (40-50 years or more) of EPS insulation materials there are several ecologically and economically sensible options for subsequent use. A variant is the simple re-use of the insulation boards. In most cases, however, EPS waste is mechanically recycled. The least is energy recovery. If there are enough quantities, physical recycling could also be carried out. EPS waste is a sought-after waste. In Austria there is even such a high demand that more than 100,000 m³ must be imported every year. Only the smallest amounts of EPS waste mixed with building rubble end up in landfills.
Click here to learn more about EPS recycling in the EU
Is EPS bad for the environment?
No, EPS is no worse than other insulation and packaging materials and in some ways is better. EPS can be recycled several times without deterioration. Thanks to recycling, EPS products come to life over and over again. The European EPS Industry has been actively involved in setting up collection points. Adding recycled material in the production process improves the environmental performance of the whole operation significantly. The problem is that some countries and municipalities still do not offer separate collection of EPS waste, although the separate collection of all plastic waste has been a general obligation under EU law since 2015. The separate collection of EPS is now finally changing.
Additionally, 98% air content guarantee maximum performance when it comes to insulation and shock absorbance. This reduces climate-damaging CO2 emissions. Because EPS is so light it saves immense amounts of fuel during transportation and therefore reduces climate-damaging CO2 emissions. But that is not all: with its extraordinary insulation EPS contributes towards valuable energy saving especially for refrigerators or for whole buildings.
Does EPS take up a lot of space in landfills?
No. Most EPS waste, like most garbage, is compacted before transport, drastically reducing its volume. Since EPS is 98% air, volume reductions of 50:1 are not uncommon during the compacting process.
For more information, see this study by COWI and the University of Aarhus.
Does EPS contribute to the marine litter problem?
EPS is only a very minor contributor to marine litter. While all marine debris is problematic, all foamed plastics together play a minor role, and EPS is only one of multiple foamed plastics. Datafor the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) shows that less than 1% of marine litter comes from foam plastic.
What happens with EPS waste containing HBCD?
Old EPS panels that still contain the flame retardant HBCD are currently being thermally recycled in waste incineration plants or cement plants. Where EPS waste still contains HBCD, which is banned and no longer used in Europe, its concentrations are typically so low that it is not considered hazardous. Dissolution and chemical recycling are promising options to recycle EPS waste. In this process, the HBCD is separated and high-purity polystyrene is recovered.
Together with 62 partners from EPS industry, the Polystyrene Loopproject has been launched and the first plant is being currently set up in Terneuzen, The Netherlands. Based on this technology over 4 000 tonnes of EPS will be recycled with separation and utilization of HBCD.
What are the benefits of using EPS for packaging?
For transportation of high value items such as white goods, damage avoidance is the top priority. In drop tests, vibration tests and other performance data, EPS gives the best protection thanks to its outstanding cushioning properties. Smart packaging design and the versatility of the material mean it can be molded in different strengths and performance levels to protect those parts of the product that could be subject to wear and tear during transportation, thereby saving on costs and packaging volume. What’s more, the EPS packaging base can be used as a tray on the assembly line. This saves money for an extra tray and on personnel for moving the assembled product. The strength and rigidity of the material means that EPS packed goods can be stacked to maximize vertical warehouse space, which increases warehouse capacities and efficiency. To learn more about the benefits of EPS Packaging, visit our dedicated website.
Is EPS safe for food-contact packaging?
Yes. EPS is safe for use in contact with food. At the EU level, styrene, the substance from which polystyrene is produced, has been authorized for use in food contact material, since at least 1990, most recently in 2011 and in consultation with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA; Commission Directives 90/128, 2002/72 and Commission Regulation 10/2011). Aside from being non-toxic and chemically inert, EPS contains no Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or Hydrofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and never has at any time during its life cycle. EPS is also absent of any nutritional value so no fungi or micro-organisms, such as mold, can grow within EPS.
What are the environmental advantages of using EPS insulation in construction?
EPS is an environmentally friendly insulation material because it is biologically neutral and does not harm human or animal health or the environment. As insulation material for healthy heat and sound insulation, EPS helps to save expensive heating energy and reduces impact noise to a minimum. When processed correctly, EPS insulation materials maintain a healthy indoor climate. You feel comfortable in your own four walls. Insulation materials made of polystyrene do not absorb moisture but stay dry. It is important to know that mold formation is not a result of thermal insulation, but incorrect heating and ventilation or often the lack of an insulating layer leads to these unpleasant phenomena. For more information, visit our Construction website.