What does the famous Green Deal say about recycling EPS/XPS? What legal solutions have aleady been found for making these materials less harmful for the ocean?
How Green Dealers are we?
Published in December 2019, the European document Green Deal, as it came to be known, opens the door to a deeper discussion on environmental sense and citizenship in Europe. The common agreement is a set of policies and strategies articulated by the European Commission in order toc ontain the threat of global warming. They are spread over ten main areas of action – amongst which the promotion of recycling and circular economy.
Regarding the announcement of this document, Commission President, Ursula vonder Leyen, said at the time that the main objective of this document “is to reconcile the economy with our Planet”. Within a year, the agreement must be revised, just at the same time when the OCEANWISE project will publish its final report, with recommendations and concrete proposals for improving the management of EPS and XPS end-of-life products.
Opportunity alert: after all, where do these materials come into the European agreement? The matching deadlines give OCEANWISE the chance to enter through the green door and help to raise awareness of the economy and communities about the need to invest in EPS / XPS recycling.
Not only on dates are they coincidental. It can even be said that the OCEANWISE project, which started to be approved in 2016, and the Green Deal are close relatives. We quickly found more than a dozen parameters where both goals and ambitions match. With the help of Maeve Thornberry & Associates, that provides research and report writing to organizations, we defined which battlegrounds we have in common with Green Deal.
In the Green Deal we find the direct link to the biggest motto of OCEANWISE:“protect, conserve and enhance the EU’s natural capital”. The OCEANWISE project is committed to this end, developing long-term measures to reduce the impact of EPS and XPS in the North-East Atlantic Ocean. It seeks to do so by finding ways to better manage these materials at end-of life, making it possible to reduce the amounts that are found as marine and beach litter. In addition, this objective links directly to the plan for Member States to restore the areas covered by the Natura 2000 network – many of which on the edge of the North-East Atlantic.
Increasing the use of recycled materials so that the need for virgin resources is reduced is one of the ambitions of the Green Deal, and OCEANWISE has already shown work in this direction. Mainly, through initiatives in which the EPS and XPS used are captured by industrial users and recycled, to become new products, replacing the use of new resources. If the recycling rate increases, naturally the demand for virgin resources will be reduced. This culminates in less non-renewable resources in use and, likely less marine pollution.
The Green Deal raises a warning: to think about recycling per se will not be sufficient; the discussion must go further and think about economically viable alternatives. The agreement aims to make it a requirement that all packaging on the EU market be reusable or recyclable in an economically viable manner by 2030. EPS and XPS meet this ambition and the OCEANWISE project has already proven, with several initiatives, the recyclable and economical potential from the use of these materials, 100% recyclable. The EPS Life Sure project has certainly tested that EPS can be recycled into new polystyrene containers. The ongoing PolyStyrene Loop initiative is also proving that even EPS waste containing flame retardants can be recycled into new construction products.
Construction is one of the sectors which makes more use of EPS and XPS, for insulation and soundproof systems. The same in engineering applications, such as building bridges and foundations. Being aware that construction is a very polluting sector, the Green Deal intends to make it mandatory that construction materials have a minimum amount of recycled content. This of course meets the objectives of OCEANWISE, which promotes an increase in the amount of EPS and XPS recycled, so that it can also increase the incorporation of these materials in the manufacturing processes of companies.
“Take, make, use and dispose of”was taken, until recently, as an European motto. But even before the publication of the Green Deal, the EU recognized that it was not a sustainable strategy. This awareness led, moreover, to the creation of the Circular Economy Plan, in the year 2015. And the Green Deal followed this new way of thinking, stating that markets for neutral climate and circular products must be developed under a new policy structure. EPS and XPS recycling fit this.
For all purposes there is a way to get there. And to achieve the goals of recycling EPS and XPS, it is important to study how the market works today: how many companies can we find which transform these materials? Are they sustainable? In the answers to these questions lies one of the biggest goals to increase the recycling of these materials. OCEANWISE was able to ascertain that the large EPS and XPS transformers’ Industry support a large number of micro-enterprises and SMEs. The majority are small companies, but the recycling process requires a lot of work on their part, as they must have the necessary systems to compact and recycle. The burden on these companies is a risk, and puts the entire recycling ecosystem for these materials at risk, too. The solution will be to promote the development of more recycling infrastructures for EPS and XPS waste products, generating additional jobs. Which meets the Green Deal’s goal of stimulate sustainable markets and jobs.
OCEANWISE data also shows that the implementation of policies to manage EPS and XPS recycling continues to happen only at a local and regional level, generating an international imbalance in recycling rates. Just look at the example of these two almost neighbouring European countries: Denmark and Norway. In the first case, the EPS recycling rate is 17%. A number that is subdued by Norway’s 70%. Increasing the recycling of these materials, whilst trying to make it economically viable requires a cohesive approach among all member states of the European Union. One of the Green Deal’s goals is to develop a common methodology for sustainable products.
Energy poverty currently reaches an average of 7% among EU countries and even in countries with milder climates, such as Portugal, the percentage comes close to 20%. Better-insulated houses require less energy for both heating and cooling. That’s one of the reasons why the Green Deal intends to double the rate of efficiency and renovation initiatives, to comply with existing legislation on the energy performance of buildings and to create more sustainable school buildings in order to promote increased demand for insulation products. OCEANWISE has demonstrated the potential for recycling opportunities for these materials, which are abundant at the end of life. All together, it will help to combat what is also one of the problems pointed out in the Green Deal: energy poverty.
One of the advantages of recycling EPS and XPS comes from the properties of this material and which justify its use for different purposes. For example, in the food sector these materials help to transport fresh food such as fish, meat, fruit and vegetables. As well as hot food. These materials easily control the temperature of the stored product, are lightweight and protect even the most delicate products on long journeys. Therefore, they are a reliable alternative to ensure that food remains fresh, reducing food waste. One of the ambitions of the European agreement is precisely the Farm to Fork strategy,“for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system”.
Even at an organizational level, OCEANWISE and the Green Deal have something in common. The European agreement promotes, among other strategies, that collaborations between associations dedicated to research, between higher education providers and between companies are fundamental, so that the policies recommended or implemented are better informed. The OCEANWISE project currently works with a network of 13 international partners, including public sector organisations.