EPS Environmental Profile

EPS Sustainability Toolkits 

“Thinking Clean, Acting Green,” is EPS-IA's comprehensive EPS Sustainability Toolkit focusing on the recycling properties of expanded polystyrene (EPS) transport packaging. Designed especially for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), it provides detailed information about EPS in simple, user-friendly terms. The kit re-examines common misperceptions and further demonstrates how EPS is playing an important role in sustainability.

The EPS Sustainability Toolkit is extremely helpful for OEMs. It is filled with data that will help you make informed choices for your business regarding purchasing, engineering and marketing. The toolkit includes guides, statistics and other information, such as:

Order an EPS Sustainability Toolkit now. 

Create a Recycling Program 

Recycling is not always easy. But many of the nation’s businesses and organizations recycle expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging products with success. EPS recycling programs vary from organization to organization but all demonstrate a commitment to the environment and to sound business practices. EPS recycling programs work best when companies can identify high-volume sources of clean material.

The basic steps critical to implementing a successful EPS recycling program include estimating the amount of EPS, finding a recycler to fit your program and budget needs and educating personnel.

Interested in starting an EPS recycling program? AFPR can walk you through this process and help determine if it makes sense for your business. For detailed instructions about implementing and administering a successful program, download the PS: Think Recycling brochure now.

Help Consumers Recycle 

There are several ways you can interface with your customers on EPS recycling:

  1. The EPS Packaging Insert is an excellent way to inform your customer about the environmental and performance benefits EPS offers. This small yet comprehensive piece lets consumers know that EPS packaging is recyclable, and gives them the AFPR web address so they can get more information.
  2. Provide a link to the EPS-IA's website on your company website. The link can direct your customers to EPS drop-off locations. There are even resources for them to recycle their loose fill polystyrene, or “peanuts" packaging, by visiting the Plastic Loose Fill Council's (PLFC) website

Several companies have come up with innovative EPS recycling programs for their customers. Sanofi Pasteur and Helios Biosciences have taken the initiative to implement pre-paid return shipping recycling programs for EPS biomedical coolers. EPS-IA worked closely with these companies to establish protocols for success, facilitate program implementation and monitor progress along the way. In addition, other major pharmaceutical companies have contacted EPS-IA for information and are considering implementing similar recycling programs.

Large Volume Recycling 

Working with your consumers and other commercial EPS waste generators in your region, EPS-IA members are able to facilitate economically viable recycling programs through the development of consistent and reliable sources of post-commercial and post-industrial EPS waste. These efforts are typically focused on high-volume collection streams. Although there are numerous end-use markets, the majority of EPS collected for recycling is used in making new EPS foam products or repelletized and remanufactured into rigid, durable products such as plastic lumber and molding trim.

EPS recycling businesses are able to accept one-time shipments (such as new computer packaging from a school district, for example) as well as repeat, high-volume deliveries. Often recyclers will set up contractual arrangements with high-volume sources of EPS. If you have either one-time or consistent large quantities of EPS for recycling, the PS: Think Recycling brochure and the list of large volume recyclers are helpful resources.

If you have large volume quantities of ARCEL, fire retardant or colored EPS for recycling, please call EPS-IA at 410-451-8340.

Recycling Other Plastics 

For information about recycling opportunities for polystyrene food service, rigid durable goods and other plastics, please check the U.S. and Canadian Recycled Plastic Markets Database. For information about recycling other materials, as well as information about reducing your impact, reusing what you’ve got and recycling in general, visit www.earth911.com

Recycling is already in action. 

Used in thousands of different ways by individuals and businesses around the world, expanded polystyrene (EPS) is relied upon to provide superior performance in various foam product applications. Whether used as protective packaging for fragile items during shipment, as custom insulation in building applications or even as a bicycle helmet, EPS is serving an important role in our everyday lives.

  • EPS meets five of the criteria for sustainable packaging based on the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s definitions. View our EPS Sustainability Checklist for full details.
  • The 2012 EPS Recycling Rate Report shows that more than 93 million pounds of EPS were recycled, including 36.7 million pounds of post-consumer packaging and 56.9 million pounds of post-industrial packaging 
  • In 2012, more than 50 percent of all EPS collected for recycling was used to make recycled-content packaging
  • EPS is made of 98 percent air and is an inert material without harmful chemicals that off-gas or leach during its use of disposal
  • EPS represents less than 1 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream by weight and volume
  • Available in a variety of custom-molded shapes, EPS containers are water-resistant and hygienic with high thermal-insulating properties. These factors make it a common choice for shipping food throughout the world.

Several Fortune 500 companies have made efforts to implement recycling and sustainability programs. 

IKEA – IKEA, already known around the world as an eco-friendly company, has recycling centers in most of their stores. They have bins for recycling materials such as light bulbs and cardboard. After AFPR distributed the EPS Sustainability Toolkit, an IKEA store in Seattle took the initiative to expand their center even further. That store now allows consumers to bring in their EPS packaging for recycling. To have the support of a company as green as IKEA is a  boost for the EPS industry.

Walmart – Just after the launch of the EPS Sustainability Toolkit, Walmart implemented a closed-loop EPS recycling plan. They piloted the program in a Las Vegas distribution center and then expanded it to Texas within a few months. The collected material is being used to create recycled picture frames, which will in turn be sold exclusively in U.S. Walmart stores. In addition, Walmart has expressed interest in distributing the EPS Packaging Insert to its suppliers that use EPS. These actions demonstrate significant potential with Walmart.

Sears Holding Corporation – Upon receiving the EPS Sustainability Toolkit, Sears Holding Corporation became interested in using these materials to expand its EPS recycling program. This is particularly important in light of their 2008 discussions to eliminate EPS packaging for Kenmore appliances. That elimination is now on-hold, pending the creation of a larger EPS recycling effort.

EPS Recycling

Expanded polystyrene building products can be made with recycled content. This is achieved by blending post-industrial EPS that has been passed through a grinder, which reduces the material back into individual bead-sized particles that are then reintroduced into the molding process. Technical considerations generally limit the level of recycled content loading from 10 to 20 percent to maintain the minimum performance standards, as specified in ASTM C578, “Standard Specification for Rigid, Cellular Polystyrene Thermal Insulation.” However, specialized processes can incorporate higher recycled content levels.

Other EPS waste can be reground and mixed with concrete to produce new building products such as prefabricated concrete blocks. Adding EPS regrind increases the thermal performance of these applications in addition to providing an alternative to landfill disposal. Another example of recycled content EPS use can be found in co-mingled plastics products such as decking, lumber and interior trim.

The California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) recognizes recycled content insulation in its Recycled Content Product (RCP) Directory. Depending on the manufacturer and application, recycled content levels for various insulation products ranges from 25 to 100 percent.

In 2012, more than 93 million pounds of EPS was recycled, with the majority reprocessed in a closed-loop process. The amount recycled includes 36 million pounds of expanded polystyrene post-consumer packaging and 56 million pounds of post-industrial recovery. Post-consumer recycling is defined as any material that is recycled after its intended end-use as a consumer item – while post-industrial recovery would include EPS facility scrap that is recycled and therefore diverted from the municipal solid waste stream. The average annual post-consumer recycling rate for EPS is 15 percent.


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