Bad Homburg, 29. September 2022 – With their own initiative, the German manufacturers of EPS packaging (EPS = expanded polystyrene/styrofoam) have successfully demonstrated in a pilot project that sorting EPS out of the yellow bag and subsequent recycling works and makes ecological and economic sense in the process.
In a joint project with light packaging sorting plants, it was possible to separate EPS from the plastic fraction and collect it by type after various tests. A critical success factor was the use of innovative infrared technology, which made very targeted sorting possible in the first place. The separated EPS was then extruded and foamed. The result was high-quality recycled EPS, also known as rEPS.
First attempts to produce packaging from this rEPS again have already been carried out successfully. In particular, the appearance, the feel as well as the protective functions of this rEPS packaging show very positive approaches (see picture). According to the project partners involved, the costs for the entire value creation are also within a market-compatible range.
The pilot project is currently being further modified and optimised. The results are then to be made available to interested dual systems as well as to the operators of packaging plants. The German EPS packaging manufacturers are confident that in future they will be able to offer their customers packaging made of rEPS that also contains recycled material from the yellow bag. With their activities, they also want to make a contribution to further improving the recycling rate for plastics from the yellow bag.
EPS sorting not considered economical so far
Due to the otherwise highly valued properties of EPS (light weight), separate sorting in the standard stream of packaging from the yellow bag has so far been considered too costly and not profitable by all stakeholders. This can now be refuted for the first time with the experiences from the pilot project. Based on the recycling of EPS packaging so far, a disadvantageous classification as “non-recyclable” according to the minimum standard of the “Central Packaging Register” is made, since the EPS, which can actually be recycled without any problems, remains in the residual fraction of the light packaging sorting plants, is subsequently thermally recycled and is thus lost as valuable recycling material. In the past, the IK has repeatedly referred to the very successful recycling of EPS outside the yellow sack and the economically justifiable sorting and has described the conclusion according to the minimum standard as a distortion of competition.
EPS is known for its exceptional protective and insulating properties as a packaging material. As a pure mono-plastic, it can also be recycled easily and to a high standard. Used EPS packaging, which is collected at recycling centres or retailers, is a sought-after and valued raw material.