Even EPS and XPS have their geography. There are, in fact, king countries when it comes to the production of these materials. As there are also countries that are champions in recycling.
The most recent OCEANWISE Reports have put the world through a magnifying glass and taken its fingerprints: after all, where is this danger to the ocean concentrated and which countries are best at fulfilling their social responsibility by recycling what they produce and use?
EPS output average (which may also include XPS output) is not exact math. This average can vary from country to country, taking into account cultural factors such as the domestic use of these materials, as well as the number of manufacturers and the size of the export market. The European Association of Plastics Recyclers (EPRO) estimated the consumption of EPS in Europe to be 335,000 tonnes in 2015. Of these, 290,000 tonnes were produced in Europe and 45 000 tonnes imported from outside the EU. On this total, EPRO also estimates that only 27% was recycled, 40% recovered and 33% sent to landfill.
More specifically, studies such as the 2017 edition of Conversio show us, for example, that Germany have used 268 000 tonnes in the construction sector this year – one of the main sectors (construction) in the world that uses these materials the most. Of this total, 74% was used for EPS product and 26% for XPS. A trend followed by the Netherlands, which according to official national statistics for 2015, used 50 500 tons for EPS and 12 000 for XPS.
About the EPS manufacturing and processing industry, it is known that there are more than 390 different companies, many of them with several units spread across the 14 main countries where the use of EPS is in focus (see graphics).
The OCEANWISE reports also give the example of developed countries in Europe, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland, which do not have raw material manufacturing companies and, therefore, import it in the form of microspheres. But the documents remind us: it is expected that manufacturing and transformation will always be done in the vicinity of the city or country where they are used, to reduce the distance between locations, since EPS and XPS have 98% air content.
In manufacturing and transformation, Italy occupies the top position, with the largest number of EPS manufacturers. Which means 40% of the EPS packaging used in the EU is produced here. The report’s conclusions, however, leave a question unanswered: why does this concentration exist in a single country? “It’s not clear”, even because “there is no indication that the state has encouraged investment in this specific sector at any stage”, it concludes.
Let’s take this to the magnifying glass, then. Germany, on the other hand, is the biggest exporter, reaching 496 million euros in 2016. This means a 15% of the world market. Next on the list are countries such as the Netherlands (10%), France (5.6%) and Belgium (4.3%). Italy does not even make the top, which the report says is due to “a lower value of EPS product type that forms the majority of its exports and/or that little of the EPS and XPS produced for construction purposes and insulation is exported”.
But what about recycling rates? We have already told this on our last issue: only 3 million cube meters of EPS are landfilled each year, according to a French recycling company.
But calculating recycling data has been a challenge for several years. For many reasons, including the type of reference that this material has in each country. In Denmark, for example, EPS is referred to as “flamingos”. Taking into account the caution that the numbers require, there were 154 EPS recycling companies in the 14 countries in focus.
It is important to remember that although the compaction of this material occurs, as a rule, at or near where the waste is generated, it is also frequently exported for recycling. Here, the UK and Ireland change their direction and export to recycling companies located in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany. These are EUMEPS statistics for 2013 – the most recent available.
In Europe, it is estimated that 27% of EPS is recycled, 40% recovered and 33% ends up in landfill. The EPS Industry Alliance points out that 53 400 tons of EPS were recycled in the US in 2016 alone, with 54% referring to industrial EPS and the remaining 46% to post-consumer EPS.