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Overcoming challenges to recycle EPS fish boxes into new food-grade packaging

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Start/End date: 
07/2017 to 06/2020
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Cyclopast - Isabel Goyena

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Expanded polystyrene (EPS) has very good insulation, protection and safety properties, making it suited for food contact packaging. Some 335 000 tonnes/year of EPS are used for this purpose in the EU, but only 25% is recycled, while 30% is incinerated and the rest landfilled. The low recycling rate is due to the difficulties in removing food residues and odours from waste PS. In particular fish EPS boxes, although 100% recyclable, mostly end up in landfills (45-50% in Europe and 55-60% in Spain).

The three-year (2017-2020) LIFE EPS SURE project, co-financed by the European Commission, aims to offer a technically, environmentally and economically viable solution that allows waste EPS fish boxes to be collected, stored, pre-treated (compaction, briquetting, washing) and converted into new PS food contact packaging (for yoghurt and milk), thus closing the loop and managing one of the most difficult packaging flows in Europe.

The project is led by CICLOPLAST, a non-profit company active in promoting the upcycling of end-of-life plastics (from packaging, agriculture, automotive, construction, etc.). It has been a member of ECOEMBES since its creation.

Several other entities feature in the project, that is ANAPE, COEXPANEL CORTE INGLES AND TOTAL PETROCHEMICALS IBERICA, responsible for converting waste EPS fish boxes into valuable resources.

An external Advisory Board (EAB) provides strategic advice to the LIFE EPS SURE Consortium in order to achieve the project objectives. Its members (ACR/ACR+, AIPE, EPS Group, COREPLA and Expra) are European experts who share their expertise in order to replicate and transfer the EPS SURE methodology to other European contries.

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Main results: 

Expected environmental benefits (the project is still ongoing):

  • 70% reduction of landfilled EPS fish boxes in Spain and 50% reduction in Italy, the UK and Greece, in the next 3-5 years of the project implementation
  • 80% reduction of landfilled EPS boxes in the 5-10 years of the project implementation in other countries 
  • Reduced consumption of raw materials such as polystyrene 
  • Water saving and reduction of energy consumption 
  • Reduction of CO2 emissions and mitigation of climate change 
  • Litter reduction.

Expected contribution to the following European policies:

  • Circular economy
  • Plastics Strategy
  • Regulation on recycling food contact packaging
  • Replicability of the EPS SURE methodology in Italy, the UK and Greece.

Expected economic and social benefits: 

  • Creation of new jobs
  • Promotion of innovative plastic recycling processes
  • Commitment through the whole value chain.