UNEP recognises EPS as at-scale recycled material

The Global EPS Sustainability Alliance (GESA) has applauded the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for recognising expanded polystyrene (EPS) transport packaging as an at-scale recycled material.

Expanded Polystyrene EPS recycled material

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

Importantly, this distinction sets it apart from other PS 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 plastics 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 (for example, fish boxes or protection of large items).

GESA spokesperson Betsy Bowers, executive director of EPS Industry Alliance, said: “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 plastics 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 plastics pollution. The update reflects a commitment to fostering a greater understanding of the complexities of this issue, and a willingness to take stakeholders’ constructive feedback into consideration.” 

Chresten Heide-Anderson, project manager at EPSbranchen–Plastindustrien, vice-president of the European Manufacturers of EPS, and spokesperson for GESA, said in relation to INC-4: “GESA champions pragmatic policies and scientific rigour in addressing plastics 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 prioritise data-driven decisions for a sustainable future.”