Expanded polystyrene, or airpop as it is currently known, is suffering from an undeserved bad reputation.
Part of the German IK Association for Plastics Packaging and Films, these two groups have now issued a statement clarifying that ‘airpop can be recycled and is being recycled successfully’. In fact, the recycling rate for airpop packages is around 50 per cent in Germany, and the trend is upward.
Airpop’s offers protective and insulating properties during the first stage of its service life, and can then be used as a secondary raw material for recycling. However, the “Guidelines for assessing the recyclability of packaging subject to mandatory participation in a dual system” published by the German Central Packaging Registry Office (ZSVR) are causing uncertainty. EPS is excluded from the group of ‘good materials’ and therefore per definition classified by the Central Office as not recyclable.
This classification is based on purely commercial decisions by the sorting companies, says Mara Hancker, Head of PR at IK Industrievereinigung and the contact person for the airpop expert group. These companies lack the requisite facilities to handle EPS.
She pointed out that the EPS volumes collected via the yellow sack scheme, under which households collect recyclable plastics in a yellow bag, are small, plus that the material delivers excellent results in energy recovery. “This classification has nothing to do with the actual physical recyclability of the material,” she said.
Classifying the material as non-recyclable is an unfair stigmatisation,and puts airpop - ‘despite its ecological benefits’-at a disadvantage compared with other materials, Hanker argued. “Substitution with ecologically disadvantageous materials is not in the interest of the environment and also not in the spirit of the Packaging Act.”
Currently, most airpop is collected by manufacturers, mainly of white goods and furniture, and passed on to specialist recyclers, who reprocess airpop packages into new airpop applications.
The airpop expert group is seeking to further expand EPS recycling and actively shape the airpop loop. To that end, it is supporting the development of new recycling processes such as the EU-funded PolyStyrene Loop or the Canadian PolyStyvert process. A PolyStyvert trial is current under way in Canada using airpop packages separated out of the yellow sack scheme in Germany. Chemical recycling by the raw material producing industry is also being intensively pursued as a special option for high-quality recycling. Solutions are also being examined at the international level via the European association EUMEPS.