Nairobi, Kenya — The expanded polystyrene industry has significantly increased its presence at the global plastics treaty talks, partly out of a fear that EPS packaging will be put on a list of materials deemed problematic or that should be phased out.
"There is a concern that we will wind up with an agreement that is going to be problematic for expanded polystyrene, and it's not going to help us promote our circularity and to bump that up, and will come with unintended consequences," said Walter Reiter, director of advocacy and regulatory affairs for the EPS Industry Association in the U.S., in a Nov. 15 interview from the talks in Kenya.
EPS industry representatives said they brought more people to the current round of talks being held at United Nations offices in Nairobi, from Nov. 13-19, while working to form closer ties globally.
EPS associations and companies from around the world brought about a dozen representatives to the talks, compared with only a few people at the previous negotiating session in Paris, in late May and early June.
As well, EPS business groups from Europe, the United States, Australia and South Africa formed the Global EPS Sustainability Alliance ahead of the Kenya meeting, the third of five planned negotiating sessions for what's called the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on the treaty, or INC 3.
"We're all facing the same challenges, so it's an opportunity to share information amongst ourselves, and it increases our horsepower, frankly," Reiter said. "It really came together for INC 3."
Diplomats from 170 countries and hundreds of observers from industry, environmental groups and others came to the talks in Kenya.
Among them was Todd Huempfner, EPS-IA chairman from 2018 to 2023 and north sales manager at Atlas Molded Products Inc., a large maker of EPS insulation and packaging that's part of Atlanta-based Atlas Roofing Corp.
He said another concern for the EPS industry is an emphasis in treaty discussions on chemical health issues, including elevating concerns about potential human health and environmental effects from additives used in plastic products.
"Coming into this, we felt like this was a plastics pollution bill," Huempfner said. "But the conversations that are getting had right now, amongst delegates and between the NGOs, seems to be leaning more towards human health."
He said the associations are concerned about draft language in the treaty around restricting or capping plastic production.
Supporters of that idea say it's necessary because current volumes of plastic waste can't be effectively controlled, but Heumpfner said it could reduce availability of materials for home insulation and energy-saving applications.