FOOD & BEVERAGES: Rethinking EPS In Packaging
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FOR more than 50 years, expanded polystyrene (EPS) has been the material of choice for a variety of food packaging as it is a winning combination of strength, lightweight protection, pricing and versatility – and what many people don’t know, has far less environmental impact than other rigid packaging options.
“There has been a trend away from EPS trays due to distorted and incorrect perceptions about its green credentials,” comments Ivan Ortlepp, MD of Cibapac. “These have been comprehensively and scientifically disproved – and we’re now seeing large retailers around the world, who previously went so far as to discourage EPS, taking it back on their shelves.”
All things considered, he adds, EPS packaging not only makes good functional and cost sense, but also good environmental sense: “Modern polystyrene packaging has long been a preferred material for the produce and other food sectors because it insulates better, keeps food fresher longer and costs less than alternatives. It generally uses fewer resources to manufacture, and weighs half as much as comparable polyprop or coated paperboard products, resulting in a tangible reduction in air emissions during transport.”
Ortlepp outlines the benefits of EPS:
• EPS is an amazingly strong and versatile material. Consisting of over 90% air, EPS is inert and stable, and has three fundamental roles which it fulfills simultaneously: insulating protection, hygienic protection and anti-shock protection.
• It is 100% recyclable, does not produce contaminating leachates, does not contain CFC, HCFC or HFC, all of which are harmful to the earth’s ozone layer.
• All packaging leaves an environmental footprint regardless of material type. It takes energy and raw materials to produce, transport, and recover or dispose of all materials. So it is important to measure all of these impacts throughout the entire lifecycle of the product.
Several life cycle analysis (LCA), or a ‘cradle-to-grave’ studies, conducted in the US and Europe, have compared PS to its paperboard and reusable alternatives, particularly in packaging applications. These studies include all processes from raw material acquisition, to ultimate disposal of the product. PS compares favourably from an overall energy and environmental emissions standpoint, with the lowest carbon footprint, when compared to alternate material counterparts.
• Foam polystyrene packaging weighs between two to five times less than comparable paper and plastic packaging - this means fewer air emissions when transporting products.
Recycled EPS represents an emerging market. The industry body in South Africa, The Polystyrene Packaging Council (PSPC), is instituting effective programmes to reclaim this valuable resource.
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