Faces of EUMEPS: Angela Fredericks, Special Advisor – Expanded Polystyrene & Innovation (BPF)

As part of the ‘Faces of Eumpeps’ series, Angela Fredericks, Special Advisor – Expanded Polystyrene & Innovation at the British Plastics Federation, a member of EUMEPS. With a career deeply rooted in the plastics industry and a fervent advocate for sustainability, Angela brings a wealth of knowledge, passion, and vision to her role. This conversation offers a unique glimpse into the commitments driving the EPS industry towards a more sustainable and innovative future, aligned with Europe’s ambitious environmental objectives.

Angela Fredericks, Special Advisor - Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) & Innovation at the British Plastics Federation (BPF)

Angela, could you share with us what drew you to the EPS industry, and how do you perceive its role in today’s environmental and economic landscape?

I have worked within the UK plastics industry for over 7 years. I joined the industry during a challenging time with a heightened focus on plastics from various stakeholders including NGOs, government, charities as well as the public. I joined the BPF to represent the packaging industry which was at the forefront of scrutiny, and I went on to study for an MBA in the ‘Sustainability of Plastic Packaging’. Following this I am thrilled to represent the EPS industry as I love to make a difference and took the opportunity to represent a challenged sector.

It is a sector that is vastly misunderstood, EPS is a fantastic material that is essential to the construction and packaging sectors as it is lightweight, has excellent thermal insulation, high impact strength properties and is cost-effective. In today’s environment, it is increasingly important to reduce our carbon footprint. EPS being 98% air, which helps to reduce the overall weight in packaging with the resulting reduction in fuel whilst its thermal properties in the construction sector, helps to reduce energy consumption and the overall environmental impact. Therefore, EPS plays an essential role in our society to protect future generations.

With your recent appointment at the British Plastics Federation, how do you plan to contribute to advancing sustainability and innovation within the EPS sector?

I am enthusiastic about this new role and excited to represent the EPS Group within the BPF. I hope that I can utilise my experience to support our members. I plan to support the industry in its drive for a sustainable future in a number of ways and I believe collaboration with industry stakeholders is key. There are many international initiatives such as Operation Clean Sweep (OCS) and RecoTrace as examples and I plan to support wide adoption of this in the UK and continue to support sustainability initiatives.

I also plan to drive advocacy and engage policymakers to support sustainability goals within the EPS sector and recognise EPS as a material that is essential to the construction and packaging sector. With a complex environmental policy landscape in the UK, it is important that EPS is recognised as a sustainable material and not penalised.

I will also prioritise engaging consumers and raising awareness about the environmental credentials of EPS. There seems to be common misconceptions that is it unrecyclable when in fact it is widely collected and recycled. It is important that consumers realise this and know where they can recycle it.

“I am thrilled to represent the EPS industry as I love to make a difference and took the opportunity to represent a challenged sector.” Angela Fredericks Special Advisor – Expanded Polystyrene & Innovation at the British Plastics Federation

In your view, what are the most promising opportunities for EPS in terms of contributing to Europe’s Green Deal and achieving climate neutrality?

The European Green Deal is an ambitious roadmap the EU has committed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 to transform Europe into a more sustainable and resource-efficient nation. The EPS industry is well placed to significantly contribute to these commitments due to the nature of the material. Using EPS in the construction industry allows significant savings on heating and cooling buildings resulting in a drastic reduction in emissions due to its thermal insulation properties improving energy efficiency.

Likewise in the packaging sector, EPS packaging protects the products which in turn helps to reduce wastage and as the material is lightweight it helps to further reduce fuel consumption. These are just a few examples of how EPS is a unique material that can contribute to the EUs goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What do you consider to be the most significant challenges facing the EPS industry in the UK, and how should the industry address these challenges?

I think one of the main challenges within the EPS industry is the public perception of the material. There are a lot of misconceptions about EPS, and it is imperative to continue to promote the facts. One of the main misconceptions is that EPS is non-recyclable and poses a risk to the environment. This is inherently untrue. The manufacture and use of EPS does not generate any risk to health or to the environment. Nor does it damage the ozone layer since it does not use CFCs or HCFCs in the manufacturing process.

It is a resourceful material that is widely collected for recycling in the UK, achieving a recycling rate of over 50% and then recycled material is used in new applications. An example of this is recycled content is often used in packaging applications as well as insulation for the construction industry creating a truly circular economy for plastics. Therefore, as an industry, it is important to continue to promote the recyclability and the benefits of using EPS in terms of energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions.

Other challenges for the industry include a lack of domestic recycling infrastructure. The recycling industry requires investment to expand EPS collection, sorting and reprocessing and this is an issue that the industry will continue to raise with the government and advocate for changes in environmental policy to support future investment.

EPS is versatile with applications ranging from packaging to insulation. Are there any emerging or underutilised applications of EPS in the UK that you find particularly exciting?

EPS is an extremely versatile material that can be used in a wide range of applications due to the properties of the material. It has a high energy absorption index so is well-suited to be used in safety products like helmets. It has high thermal insulation properties so widely used in the pharmaceutical and food industry as the go-to material for vaccines and packaging meeting all food contact regulations for food and pharmaceuticals.

It is widely used in civil engineering such as railways, embankments, and viaducts and as a material it can prevent frost heave and reduce thermal stress which provides an opportunity for it to be used in many future landscaping projects.

An innovation in recent years is Grey EPS which has great thermal resistance enabling insulation material to be thinner and use less material. Other sectors that use EPS are horticulture due to the lightweight, insulating and moisture resistance properties that help to create the perfect conditions for plants. With such a versatile material there is an exciting opportunity for innovations across sectors into valuable applications.

How does your vision for EPS align with the principles of the circular economy, especially in the context of the UK’s regulatory and environmental framework?

Within the UK we have experienced varying regulations within the devolved nations as well as a deviance from the EU. In an ideal world the UKs regulatory and environmental policy framework would be aligned.

The vision for the EPS industry should adopt a holistic approach to sustainability from design for end of life, minimising waste, maximising resource efficiency and developing the UKs collection, sorting, and recycling infrastructure.

As the policy landscape within the UK evolves it is important that government recognise the importance of using thorough impact assessments and take a comprehensive life cycle analysis approach.

“Overall collaboration across sectors is essential to drive innovation, sustainability, and competitiveness in an evolving market. It provides the opportunity to share knowledge, expertise, and best practices.” Angela Fredericks Special Advisor – Expanded Polystyrene & Innovation at the British Plastics Federation

Collaboration is key in fostering innovation. Can you talk about any potential or existing partnerships that excite you, aiming to push the EPS industry forward?

I am a strong advocate for collaboration and believe that it is key to creating a truly circular economy for EPS. The UK industry has a history of collaboration and developing common goals.

There are several partnerships and projects that are in place to accelerate the collection and recycling of EPS. An example of this is there are retailers that host EPS packaging take-back schemes where the material is used as protective packaging to transport large white goods, then collected and recycled in partnership with recyclers. Thus, creating a closed loop system which is an excellent example of circular economy principles and practices.

Additionally, there are many household waste recycling centres that collect and recycle EPS with further trials underway to develop this collection system further. There is a real opportunity to collect and recycle more material and drive-up recycling rates.

There are also commitments and investments in the UK to scale up pyrolysis plants which provide an opportunity to recycle more difficult to recycle plastics and provide an opportunity for the construction industry. Alongside this, there are innovations in chemical recycling being developed by leading UK universities which could provide further alternative recycling routes in the future to coincide with the thousands of tonnes already recycled using mechanical recycling.

I think the EPS industry could benefit from cross-industry collaboration between the entire EPS value chain including raw material suppliers, manufacturers, distributors from the construction, packaging sectors as well as end users and academia to drive innovative solutions and new market opportunities. Alongside this support from government for funding in research and development for businesses can support their sustainability policies and commitments. Overall collaboration across sectors is essential to drive innovation, sustainability, and competitiveness in an evolving market. It provides the opportunity to share knowledge, expertise, and best practices.

How does your personal philosophy on environmental stewardship and innovation influence your approach to your role as Special Advisor on Expanded Polystyrene & Innovation?

I personally believe that it is important to follow the science and base decision-making on a full life cycle analysis of what is best for the environment. I have a strong commitment to drive sustainable practices throughout the lifecycle of the material.

I will use my influence to promote innovation to drive meaningful change and continue to encourage research and development in manufacturing and recycling technologies to reduce waste and drive improved efficiency.

What advice would you give to young professionals or students interested in making a meaningful impact in the EPS industry or sustainability sector?

I would encourage aspiring professionals to work in the EPS industry as it is a challenging but thrilling industry to work in where you can really make a difference. It is a complex industry, and I would encourage them to take their time in learning about the various processes, challenges and the latest advancements in sustainable practices, sustainable design, recycling technologies, regulations, standards and opportunities in the sector.

I would recommend that they stay up to date with the latest developments, trends, and research and embrace a lifelong learning mindset as it is a constantly evolving industry. This can be achieved by following industry publications, attending seminars and conferences, and staying actively engaged with industry professionals.

Another way that young professionals could thrive in the industry would be to get practical experience within the industry which could be gained through several channels such as internships, knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) and volunteering with companies within the EPS value chain. Practical experience can develop invaluable insights, skills and develop industry contacts.

I believe that it is a rewarding industry and aspiring young professionals and students can position themselves to make a significant impact to contribute to a sustainable future of EPS.

As you look towards the future, what are your highest aspirations for the EPS industry in the UK, and how do you plan to contribute to realising those goals?

I have many aspirations for the EPS industry that I would like to drive forward. I would like to help the industry transition to a circular economy for EPS where there is a full systems approach for collecting, sorting, and reprocessing of this resource.

I would be to continue to see the UK EPS industry achieve sustainability goals, an example of this is reducing its carbon footprint within the manufacturing and distribution. Many companies have made great strides to reduce their carbon footprint and I plan to continue to support their sustainable practices.

I would like to build upon the efforts and achievements in the UK where businesses run take back schemes and have partnerships with recycling facilities to collect and recycle EPS. In the UK, EPS is widely collected and recycled at scale, achieving recycling rates of over 50%. I plan to continue to dialogue with local authorities to improve collection and recycling from household waste recycling centres. Awareness amongst consumers that EPS is widely collected and recycled is key, alongside raising awareness of the excellent properties it has a material such as it being lightweight with good thermal insulation and high impact resistance.

As we look to the future, I believe innovation is essential and can have an important impact to drive growth in the construction and packaging industry and more, as well play an essential role within businesses such as in automated production processes that drive efficiency.

Angela’s journey, underpinned by a dedication to sustainability and innovation, reflects the broader narrative of the EPS industry’s evolution. Angela’s aspirations for the EPS sector are not just visionary but achievable with collective effort, collaboration, and continued advocacy. Her call to action for young professionals, the importance of circular economy principles, and the potential for EPS to contribute substantially to Europe’s Green Deal, reiterate the critical role of EPS in our sustainable future. Angela’s story is a beacon for ongoing dialogue, innovation, and action, inspiring us all to contribute to a more sustainable, efficient, and circular EPS industry in the UK and beyond.