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

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Cyclopast - Isabel Goyena

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 aims to offer a technically, environmentally and economically viable solution that allows waste EPS fish boxes to be collected, stored, pre-treated and converted into new PS food contact packaging.

The project is led by CICLOPLAST, a non-profit company active in promoting the upcycling of end-of-life plastics. 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.

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Main results

Expected environmental benefits:

  • 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 economic and social benefits: 

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