An initiative from the German manufacturers of expanded polystyrene - EPS - packaging has shown that sorting and recycling EPS from Germany’s yellow bag waste can be done in an economically viable way.
EPS is a valued packaging material that, as a pure mono-plastic, can easily be recycled into a high-quality recyclate. Used EPS packaging that is collected at recycling centres or retailers, is a much sought-after raw material.
Until now, however, separate sorting of EPS in the standard stream of packaging from the yellow bag has been considered to be too expensive and not profitable by all stakeholders.
This initiative proves otherwise. A pilot project was launched in collaboration with a number of light packaging sorting plants which successfully demonstrated that it was possible to separate EPS from the plastic fraction and collect it by type. To that end, infrared technology was used, making very targeted sorting possible upfront. The separated EPS was then extruded and foamed, yielding a high-quality recycled rEPS.
Already, initial attempts to produce new packaging have proven successful, in terms of performance, aesthetics and, importantly, costs. According to the project partners, the costs of the material were ‘within a market-compatible range’.
In Germany, EPS packaging has been classified as non-recyclable under the minimum standard of the Central Packaging Register. This minimum standard has been developed for measuring the recyclability of packaging with the aim of providing a transparent and standardised instrument for determining recyclability. Classifying EPS as non-recyclable, while it can actually be recycled without any problems, results in its failure to be sorted and separated, ending up at sorting plants in the residual fraction and being subsequently incinerated. The German plastics packing association IK has repeatedly pointed out that EPS collected elsewhere is successfully recycled and has referred to the minimum standard as a distortion of competition.
Currently, the pilot project is being further modified and optimised. The next step will be to inform interested Dual System companies, i.e. the companies responsible for managing the recycling of German domestic waste, and operators of packaging plants of the results.
The German EPS packaging manufacturers are confident that in future, packaging will be available to their customers made from rEPS containing recycled material from the yellow bag.
The activities are also intended to help boost the recycling rate for plastics from the yellow bag.