Expanded Polystyrene Foam Recycling (EPS) Facts and Figures

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Although the recycling of expanded polystyrene foam remains controversial, there are two sides to the debate. EPS can effectively be recycled and reused. The rate of recycling is increasing every single year. As well, is expected to increase more in the coming years. Here are some of the key EPS recycling facts and figures:

1. According to the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers, more than 118 million pounds of EPS were recycled during the calendar year 2016. This figure includes 63 million pounds of post-consumer packaging and 55.7 million pounds of post-industrial recovery. Post-consumer is defined as any material that is recycled after its intended end-use while post-industrial recovery includes EPS facility scrap that is recycled but never served its intended purpose as a packaging material or other end-use application.

2. The post-consumer and post- commercial EPS recycling in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, 2012, and 2016 were 25 million pounds, 32 million pounds, 33.6 million pounds, 37.1 million pounds, 36.7 million pounds and 63 million pounds, respectively.

3. Over the last several years, the recycling percentages of EPS recycled every year have mostly trended upward. Despite misconceptions about the recyclability of EPS, the EPS manufacturers and recyclers have achieved recycling rate of 34 percent in the year 2013. In actual fact, when comparing durable, rigid polystyrene (PS) and other similar grade materials, post commercial and post-consumer EPS recycling represent 47 percent of all post-use polystyrene recovered and recycled in the U.S. 

4. In 2013, over 50 percent of EPS recovered for recycling was used to produce recycled content packaging.

5. EPS represents less than 1% of the total municipal solid waste stream by weight and volume.

6. Polystyrene is 100% recyclable and about 35% of Canadian communities accept PS food and in their recycling programs and some others offer drop-off locations for clean polystyrene.

6. The rate of post-consumer and post-industrial EPS recycling is one of the highest among all kinds of plastics. For the past 15 years, the worldwide EPS industry managed to recycle an average of 19 percent of post-consumer and 25 percent of post-industrial EPS.

7. The increasing volumes and percentages of EPS recycling are astonishing considering the fact that 95-98 percent of EPS is air.

8. Dumping EPS into landfills is extremely harmful to our environment because it does not biodegrade in landfills. Polystyrene packaging is not permitted to use in Antarctica as consumption of polystyrene by wildlife can be fatal. On the other hand, recycling every ton of EPS saves as much as 637 gallons of oil.

9. As EPS is so light in weight that it takes up just 0.01% of the total solid waste stream by weight and volume.

10. As the use of recycled content in producing new EPS packaging increases (10 percent to 20 percent), consumption of energy decreases (3 percent to13 percent.)

11. Every year, America uses sufficient EPS to circle the world as many as 426 times.