EPS transport packaging now recognised as recyclable in practice and at scale in United Nations Environment Programme INC-4 report


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The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has acknowledged expanded polystyrene (EPS) transport packaging as an at-scale recycled material.

This recognition was included in its recently revised report on plastic pollution science, updated ahead of this week’s INC-4 negotiations to develop an international legally binding instrument to address global plastic pollution.

Importantly, this distinction sets it apart from other polystyrene foam applications, demonstrating the need to assess individual material applications and uses independently. Recycling process technologies, regulatory considerations, contamination factors, and other influencing factors contribute to end-of-life management options.

UNEP has consistently encouraged observer input that is clearly reflected in the official documents prepared in advance of INC-4. As a result, the plastic pollution science report now includes more than 70 new or updated references. While these documents are intended for reference only, they are a vital starting point for the negotiations this week.

The report now states that “while many polymers may be recyclable in theory, only a handful of packaging formats have been demonstrated to be recycled in practice and at scale in specific countries and regions. Those products [include]…EPS for transport packaging (e.g. fish boxes or protection of large items).”

Global EPS Sustainability Alliance (GESA) spokesperson Betsy Bowers, Executive Director of EPS Industry Alliance (EPS-IA), has released the following statement regarding the update: "We are very pleased by UNEP’s recognition that EPS transport packaging is recycled in practice and at scale. It is an excellent example of how intricate aspects of the treaty’s development will benefit from scientific oversight, and why GESA advocates for a scientific approach to the issue of plastic pollution overall.

“The inclusion of EPS transport packaging’s recycling capability in the report is a testament to the commitment and dedication of UNEP to comprehensively address plastic pollution. The update reflects a commitment to fostering a greater understanding of the complexities of this issue, and a willingness to take stakeholder’s constructive feedback into consideration.”

EPS maintains an essential role in key industries including packaging, construction, transportation, manufacturing, and automotive, among others. Applications such as packaging for the safe and effective transportation of food and vital medicines and vaccines, protective gear to prevent injury, refrigeration components, insulation for housing, and car seats are all made using EPS. The plastics pollution treaty could have a dramatic impact on many of these day-to-day products that many rely upon.

The Global EPS Sustainability Alliance Supports a Global Plastics Agreement that Creates a Circular Economy for All Plastics and Eliminates Plastic Pollution

GESA advocates for the responsible use of EPS, as well as research-backed solutions and policies that will positively benefit the environment and the economy. Chresten Heide-Anderson, Project Manager at EPSbranchen – en del af Plastindustrien, Vice President of the European Manufacturers of EPS (EUMEPS), and spokesperson for GESA said in relation to INC-4: “GESA champions pragmatic policies and scientific rigor in addressing plastic pollution. As we near INC-4, we advocate for Extended Producer Responsibility and nuanced evaluation criteria to drive meaningful action. We advocate for a pragmatic focus on specific applications rather than polymers, incorporating quantitative thresholds and life cycle analysis data. Let’s prioritize data-driven decisions for a sustainable future.”
GESA advocates for the following positions as part of its environmental policy recommendations:

  • We support an ambitious plan to eliminate plastic pollution through an implementable agreement.
  • We support the creation of a scientific advisory board to determine the best course of action to address potentially problematic plastics.
  • We support chemical transparency for materials. Data from reports on EPS’ chemical composition and emissions demonstrate that EPS is a safe material.
  • We support the creation of independent national plans of action.
  • We support flexibility to achieve circularity and oppose lists of banned or restricted polymers, ingredients, and products.
  • We support the adoption of science-based tools including life cycle analysis (LCA).

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