THE BIG MARKET
How many and how much? When talking about the EPS/XPS market, the answer is not simple. How much, in terms of volume, EPS and XPS is manufactured? Who are the main manufacturers of EPS and XPS? What are the used products EPS and XPS to generate? Who are the key customers?
How many and how much? When talking about the EPS/XPS market, the answer is not simple. How much, in terms of volume, EPS and XPS is manufactured? Who are the main manufacturers of EPS and XPS? What are the used products EPS and XPS to generate? Who are the key customers?
We can see EPS waste surfacing on sea waters, turning into garbage. But there is little detailed information available about this big market nor strong awareness about the damage it causes to the marine ecosystems (and beyond). Also, this data is commercially sensitive information for companies. In order to fill this gap, the OceanWise project created an in-depth research based on the track of 14 European countries. The report, called WORK PACKAGE 5.2 FINAL REPORT, is focused on this big market and was assigned to OceanWise partner Repak, the sole packaging compliance scheme operating in Ireland.
We can start exactly by tracking the road this material travels: what purposes does it serve, anyway? The spectrum of uses for EPS and XPS is wide. The applications include insulation manufacturing, construction industrial applications, engineering industrial applications, also vehicle, automative parts, electronic goods, electrical / white goods, consumer goods and disposable manufacturing. But, as we know, also seafood and fish processing, aquaculture and hydroponics, seed and plant growing, food processing, wholesaling and retailing, pharmaceutical distribution, pontoons (marinas), e-Commerce, custom designs (interiors, events), apiary management (bee-keeping) and marine uses (buoys). The list seems endless. And so it is because there is always a new discovery about another feature of this material.
The next question asked by this study was to know how this list is representative in the 14 countries analyzed. We toured Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
About the size of EPS manufacturing/transformation industry, Italy stands out highly from the rest, producing about 40% of the EPS packaging used in the EU. What the study itself shows is not a surprise: “not surprisingly, Italy, with by far the largest number of EPS manufacturers of the listed countries.” Why? “Is not clear; there is no indication that the state encouraged investment in this particular industry at any stage”.
For now, one certainty : all these countries import EPS and XPS and “there is a strong possibility that the EPS / XPS that is found as marine litter emanates from some or all of these countries”.
But to look at this market goes far beyond analyzing what is going on within each of these countries. We live in an era of globalization, nations are not watertight and, therefore, everyone depends on everyone. When talking about the use and production of EPS/XPS, it is no different. Therefore, it was necessary to analyze exports and imports.
Italy, for example, supplies about 40% of EPS packaging in the EU. The Plastics Europe made the estimate: there was 300 kilo tonnes of EPS demand in Europe in 2017, and also 388 kilo tonnes of waste EPS generated across the EU. In addition to the large quantities that are imported outside the EU, especially in materials such as white goods and electronics.
Putting everything in perspective, here are the 15 findings of this study.
Let’s focus on a particular threat that leverages what is the OceanWise motto: promoting solutions and alternatives to reduce EPS and XPS in the marine ecosystem. This threat is the use of this material for packaging, namely for the transport and conservation of fish – where the impact on the sea becomes more evident (but not the only one). This study reminds us that the use of EPS and XPS for this purpose has spread due to factors of quality of physical and thermal conservation, the weight and the price practiced in the market – “it is relatively cheap”.
But it also reminds us that “what makes it so attractive for packaging, becomes a distinct disadvantage after being used”. This means the fact that EPS is 98% airborne means that it does not make sense to transport it in its original form, since it becomes a waste. And the good it brings has not made up for the damage it does.
Despite this, its use remains widespread. Disregarding the use for the construction sector, EPS and XPS in fish boxes represent 23% of the applications of this material in Europe. A higher value (37%) is only found for domestic packaging. Equally important is the application of these materials in industrial and commercial packaging, representing a 21% share of this total. What constitutes a major concern in these times: “the rise of online shopping, where items are delivered either directly from the manufacturer to the consumer, or from a distribution centre, has also resulted in an increase in packaging generally, as reported by Repak, the packaging compliance scheme in Ireland”.
But there is good news. The impact of fish boxes on EPS marine waste is expected to be less than thought at the start of the project. After contacting industry sources and investigating the use of this material in fishing ports, it was found that the boxes are not necessarily used in the trawlers, “since they would not withstand rough handling”.
When the fish arrives at the EPS boxes, it is already unloaded, either on the pier or during transportation to the sales points. “EPS fish boxes are generally used on a business-to-business basis.”
Still, this impact on marine litter depends on the impact of the extension of the fish market. Take a look at the table below, where we are able to assess which countries carry out the most fish transactions, both for import and export. Highlight for countries like Netherlands, Spain and Germany.
Fish Production and Trading Data – Sources: Referenced in footnotes
Legally binding solutions are arising to curb the EPS /XPS plastic pollution, and recent measures are positive, according to the OceanWise report. The document recalls that the biggest legislative evolution in terms of plastic packaging in general, “and EPS / XPS specifically”, passed the EU Directive 2019/904, published on June 5, 2019. A directive that focuses on “reducing of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment “. For this very reason, it became known as the Single Use Plastics Directive.
Materials made from EPS, such as beverage containers, drinking glasses, and probably more significantly, and food containers, are even on the list of disposable plastic products “whose sale will be banned in mid-2021”.
“This is very new legislation which has is currently being transposed by the EU Member States, so it remains to be seen how the producers of EPS and XPS food containers will deal with the obligations imposed by the Directive in the future. Despite the details, the manufacturers of those containers and cups which are in widespread use across the focus countries, must be reviewing both their EPS and XPS production lines as a consequence of the Directive, as the sale and use of these products is likely to change significantly in the next 2-3 years”, explains the document.
The abolition of products made from this material is already a reality in cities around USA, for example. And the expectation is high for what Europe’s position on this topic will be in the coming years.
COMPACTORS THAT CHANGE AND INSPIRE
Anouck Le Crann is responsible for the Quality, Health, Safety and Environment (QHSE) of the fishery port of Lorient, a French commune in the administrative region of Brittany with about 60 thousand inhabitants and overlooking the River Blavet. She tells us how, from here on, she saw the change happen, when the French ports started to offer EPS and XPS compactors.
The idea inspired the world and there are countries that are also beginning to invest in the creation of compactors in their fishing ports – previously without a solution for fish, EPS and XPS boxes.
“The reflection was initiated in 2013 because local business in the fisherie sector had a large stock of polystyrene waste and were considering a compaction activity but did not have space for compaction (Polystyrene boxes are used for the packaging of fishery products).” In this port, the production of compressed EPS has been monitored since 2015, two years after the initiative to put compactors in the ports. And the numbers accompany a reduction in the use of EPS / XPS.
The volume of EPS/XPS consumption in this port (*)2020 is considered a non significant year due to the international health context
SEM Lorient was not the first port to adopt the measure and this, too, was inspired by what was done elsewhere. Anouck tells when feasibility studies started, “another fishing port was already equipped” with compactors: Les Sables D’Olonne. “But for compacting less important quantities.”
Contrary to the old saying, everything that happens on OceanWise does not stay on OceanWise. “All action developed will be part of the range of recommendations to be integrated in the policy process” and “the whole participatory process has contributed to create bridges within the different identified categories, establishing new partnerships resulting from the networking promoted by the project participatory sessions ”.
Lia Vasconcelos, who is responsible for the development of stakeholders’ engagement at OceanWise is very clear about the role of her team in the project. This month, we dedicate our four questions to her.
How many countries are involved? Who are OceanWise stakeholders today?
The project Ocean Wise involves five countries – Portugal, Spain, France, United Kingsom and Ireland. Presently, OW works with a total of 994 identified stakeholders. The participatory team of OW has launched a stakeholder mapping that resulted in the identification of 8 categories, namely raw material supplier, EPS/XPS products and packing industry, retail/supplier/industry, final consumer, end life (recycle and reuse), policy makers, researchers, alternative EPS/XPS products and other.
There were already three rounds of workshops that could count with rounds of about 50 to more than 100 stakeholders. The stakeholders from the five countries encompassed representatives of several sectors of activity directly or indirectly related to EPS/XPS life cycle, in areas such as, Environmental Management, Waste Management, Industries of production and recycling of expanded polystyrene, Companies of material production, Fisheries, Aquaculture, Food Distribution, Academy and Non-Governmental environmental Organizations, Machinery Manufacturers for EPS waste uptake, Port Authorities, Marine Litter and Waste Policy entities, users and legislators.
How is the stakeholder engagement process designed?
The interactive and interactive identification of stakeholders is structured in 4 phases. Each phase is fed by the previous one in a growing continuous loop.
All country partners were responsible to organize in their country the various planned workshop and to bring the stakeholders to the process. Before the workshops, the countries teams received a throughout training – Promoting Dialogue among Coastal Communities Multi-Stakeholders in Public Governance – aiming to capacitate partners to implement collaborative methodologies involving multi-stakeholders along the development of the project. To ensure a homogeneous the workshops carry out in each country follow the same motto operandi and methodology, coordinated and articulated by the participatory team.
These workshops intended to promote the opportunity to progressively engage EPS/XPS stakeholders to actively contribute to OceanWise, exploring the experience and knowledge from a diversity of stakeholders in different countries, fulfilling the project objectives.
So far, three of the four workshops were accomplished, targeting the following issues. How can expanded plastics fit into the Circular Economy? Building actions to address EPS/XPS presence on the ocean? How will Europe fit EPS/XPS into the circular economy?”
In the first two Stakeholders Workshops, the participants were able to explore the relation between EPS/XPS and circular economy and to elaborate roadmaps for commons uses of EPS/XPS products with the objective to achieve a 100% circular economy and to avoid/decrease the occurrence of these products in the ocean. In this 3rd, the workshop was held simultaneous in the five countries of the OceanWise project, the objective was to go further and deeper on this, and to obtain a detailed list of actions to face the presence of EPS/ XPS in the ocean and simultaneous allow for exchanging of experiences between participants from the various countries in the project to develop joint actions for the Atlantic Northeast area.
The fourth and final workshop entitled “#Be OceanWise – Solutions to prevent EPS / XPS from marina waste”, is in preparation and will be held in September 2021. It intends to be a wrap-up to consolidate the actions recommendations list that should be considering at European policies regarding the EPS/XPS as a source of marine litter.
What challenges are going on, at this moment, in this scope?
Besides the preparation of the final workshop, a Delphi survey was applied to the Atlantic North-East Stakeholders, namely the ones related with the EPS/XPS life cycle (Raw Material Supplier (manufactures in Europe); EPS/XPS product packaging industry (packaging association, cluster or platform); Retail Supplier Industry (producer market (central); supermarkets); Final Consumer (fishing/aquaculture industry)).
The Delphi is a popular mean of forecasting future scenarios and is used to determine the range of opinions on particular matters, to test questions of policy or others, and to explore (or achieve) consensus on disputed topics. The Delphi method has its own distinct characteristics, and it uses a group of participants (known as ‘panellists’) specially selected for their particular expertise on a topic. For this, the OceanWise team prepared a set of 33 achievements regarding EPS / XPS and other expanded foamed plastic in the short-medium-long term.
It was asked to several stakeholders considered experts in their areas, a total of 45 panellists, to carefully analysed each of the 33 hypothetical achievements and give us their opinion, regarding the time period for the Achievement, the countries which already meet the requirements or gather the know-how required for accomplishment and to identify the main constraints to accomplishment / achievement.
This was the 1st Delphi round took place between July and October 2020 and these results are being treated and already give a set of multiple hints of the main issues and level of importance, not only for each category of stakeholder, but also geographically to each country partner.
What has come out of stakeholder meetings you would highlight?
wo aspects emerge out of the stakeholders’ workshops, one is the sound outputs that the participatory team leave the experts of this scientific area to comment on it. The other part, more relevant for the participatory team that is responsible for assure a sound process related to the outputs, namely the building up of social (partnerships and networks), intellectual (new knowledge often resulting from the crossing and articulation of different types of knowledge that seldom have the possibility to be confronted or used in complementary ways) and political ( generating a more intense and wider influence in this area of expertise, creating what in theoretical terms is called a community of practice). These are the outcomes that have been emerging out of the different participatory session, and that hopefully in the long range will be capitalizing by influencing policy related issues at the European level, based in more sounded joint proposals developed within and/or with the engaged stakeholders.
The OCEANWISE and INTERREG Atlantic Area project joined efforts of several entities to prepare a document through which we could, for the first time, have a clear idea of the impact of this material on marine pollution and what management alternatives are advisable or not. After a full analysis of the market and the science that has been developed to find solutions to this marine problem, the OCEANWISE report established a series of conclusions. A kind of conduct guide, so that mistakes are not repeated and to encourage the finding.
It’s made to function as port means for receiving waste from ships, to be made available by the managing entities of the ports to their users. And the legal framework for this directive is not new. But, in Portugal, Port Reception Facilities recently gained another dimension.
OCEANWISE project and Sociedade Ponto Verde promoted the OCEAN’S CALLING contest, which promised to award 25 thousand euros in a project or idea that would develop an alternative, better use or better recycling of EPS or XPS packaging. The company Storopack, one of the main packaging manufacturers in the world, was the big winner, with the presentation of the Seaclic project.
She argues that, without design, sustainability is difficult to achieve. Teresa Franqueira is a professor and researcher at the Department of Communication and Art at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, and was elected, in past December, the international coordinator of the network for social innovation and sustainability of the DESIS (Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability). We went to meet her and took four questions with us.
A danger in the Atlantic (still) looking for a solution
Thousands of fish boxes made of EPS / XPS, the most commercialized product in the Atlantic Area, are discarded per minute. And we all know that these are not positive statistics, when we talk about one of the major sources of marine litter. But the truth is that solutions to this problem is still insufficient, both in terms of efficiency and economic viability.
The OCEANWISE project prepared a report through which we can, for the first time, have a clear idea of the potential impact of this product on marine pollution and which management measures are advisable.
It’s called “Essay on the commercialization chain for refrigerated fishery products packed in EPS / XPS, as well as their management cycle, processing and recovery of their waste within the European countries in the Atlantic Area. Assessment on usage of bioplastics as alternative to EPS / XPS materials”. It’s been produced by CETMAR experts, Julio Maroto, Esther Valiño, Laura García and Victoria Lago, as well as experts from Sociedade Ponto Verde (SPV), Paula Norte and Susana Ângelo, and Brian Walsh, from REPAK.
The reports warns: although there are biodegradable alternatives to EPS or XPS being introduced on the market, even these have to be treated under certain specifications, and risk adding polluting risk and failing to fulfill their mission. This is the case with BIOEPS boxes and can be biodegradable under different conditions, recalls the report: “marine safe, compostable or degradable in the soil”.
The report concludes that only one of the many companies that manufacture these boxes “attests to the biodegradation of water”. This “is fundamental in relation to marine litter because a compostable material can biodegrade under certain conditions, but not when it is discarded in natural or marine environments”. In addition, without composting facilities, this material can only be used as waste for energy and landfills, as “BIOEPS is not recoverable” and “the end of life of these materials is composting”.
New things means, in most cases, more challenges. And there is no exception here. The introduction of new materials and waste requires that segregation is adequate, the report recalls. Both citizens and companies “must be aware of the importance of sorting and learn to recognize plastics and bioplastics”. “Bioplastics must be labeled differentiated” and “there is still no established standard” for the different colors used in BIOEPS boxes – some brown, others similar in color to EPS
After a full analysis of the market and the science that has been developed to find solutions to this marine problem, the OCEANWISE report sets a series of conclusions, guidelines to prevent further mistakes and encourage new solutions.
• Using biodegradable bioplastics as raw material for manufacturing similar to EPS fish boxes does not seem to be a solution for the problem of EPS litter in the ocean. In many cases, alternative to EPS fish boxes launched in the market are made of compostable BIOEPS that will remain as a problem of marine litter once they reach the ocean.
• There are some marine-safe materials (biodegradable in marine environment) that could represent a baseline but they are not well established yet.
• Compostable bioplastics (the most used bioplastics) are in line to sustainability and circularity, but only when valorising them as compost. Dependency on composting plants is huge and biowaste management systems are not established yet.
• Biodegradable bioplastics are not recoverable. Composting is the only end-of-life for these materials (aside from WtE and landfills).
• Biodegradable plastics do not always contribute positively into the plastic littering situation, on the contrary:
– Additional containers, new EPR schemes strategies, labelling and awareness are some of the measures needed for establishing a new management system. There have been some pilot actions of implementation, but no real plans.
– Compost companies are not ready to manage big amount of BIOEPS boxes (or even biopackaging in general): a very good segregation at source is mandatory for this purpose because, as stated before, BIOEPS usually takes longer to compost than other compostable materials. Furthermore, there are no agronomical proof validating the advantages of using BIOEPS as a raw material for compost elaboration (in terms of nutrients and soil benefits), so there is no demand for this product.
– Composting companies cannot differentiate biodegradable plastics vs non biodegradable. They have to discard all plastic that may enter their facilities to avoid contamination of the final product.
Port Reception Facilities: Portugal went further
The change is being made slowly and surgically, all over the world. We write from Portugal, where Port Reception Facilities recently gained another dimension.
The EU directive has long been a major topic when it comes to marine sustainability. For decades the IMO [International Maritime Organization] has recognized it as crucial to make MARPOL [International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships created in 1973 and one of the most important international environmental conventions] implementation effective. Also, the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) has strongly encouraged Member States to provide adequate reception facilities.
Basically, they function as port means for receiving waste from ships, to be made available by the managing entities of the ports to their users. A system associated with the correct management and forwarding of the waste to its final destination. It creates conditions for all ships to be able to deliver the waste in suitable means prior to their departure from the port, thus avoiding discharges into the marine environment.
The legal framework for this EU directive is not new. Ana Margarida Silva, Senior officer at the Infrastructure Unit at the Portuguese Directorate-General for Natural Resources, Safety and Maritime Services (DGRM), explains how it started to be built and what will change in Europe and, specifically, in Portugal.
“On November 27, 2000, the Directive 2000/59 / EC on port reception facilities for ship-generated waste and cargo residues was published. With this Directive, the obligation to comply with requirements foreseen in the MARPOL Convention regarding the delivery of waste in port facilities has been transposed into Union law. Recently, a new Directive was published in 2019 (Directive 2019/883 / EU, of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 17 April) which seconds the previous Directive 2000/59 / EC and reformulates important aspects for reconciling the good functioning of maritime transport with the protection of the marine environment. Directive 2019/883 / EU must be transposed by Member States by 28 June 2021 ”, she clarifies. But, in Portugal, we tried to go “a little further”.
Ana Margarida Silva was part of the team that implemented the transposition of Directive 2019/883 / EU into national law – through Decree-Law no. 102/2020, of 9 December. What this transposition adds is that “the managing entities of the ports will be obliged to keep their port basins and other areas of their jurisdiction clean from litter”, as well as “being obliged to collect and send the associated disposable expanded polystyrene from fishing activity to their final destination”.
Therefore, fishing ports will have to provide densification units, “or another suitable system”, for the collection and management of this polystyrene. This obliges them to be “equipped with compaction systems or, if it is not possible, the existence of a compactor in the fishing port, there must be a place for temporary storage of polystyrene residues collected in that port, with the objective of their subsequent compaction and forwarding to recovery circuits”. Time to remember what we wrote in the previous newsletter about compacting and collecting EPS or XPS. Check it out.
The ocean calls for alternatives and a winner emerged
We have already said it: although EPS is one of the most polluting sources of marine litter, there are still few and ineffective solutions to replace it in the fishing industry. The solution is to continue enforcing recycling opportunities and searching for alternatives, in a constant trial-and-error process that, although slow, say experts in the field, will be worth it when the solution is found.
It was with this in mind that the OCEANWISE project and Sociedade Ponto Verde promoted the OCEAN’S CALLING contest, which promised to award 25 thousand euros in a project or idea that would develop an alternative, better use or better recycling of EPS or XPS packaging. Applications took place between October 2019 and February 2020, open to individual entrepreneurs or teams and tart-ups, public or private companies, designers, universities, public or private institutions, associations or non-governmental organizations, or other entities. In September last year, we found out who would open up the champagne.
The company Storopack, one of the main packaging manufacturers in the world, was the big winner, with the presentation of the Seaclic project. Basically, it is a packaging box that comes from renewable resources and that, after being used and composted, returns to being a renewable resource. As for the characteristics, namely in the lightness of the material, Seaclic boxes are equivalent to EPS. Just like the design, not changing transport habits.
Anthony Mahe is the technical manager of the Seaclic project and states that the importance of this award is to validate your strategic choices “in terms of best material for material to preserve the food and the environment”. Among 17 applications “from different types of entities, from three of the five countries participating in the OCEANWISE project”, this “project stood out for being an efficient and alternative solution to conventional EPS packaging”, says Ana Trigo Morais, CEO of the Ponto Verde Society (SPV).
However, says Anthony Mahe, “the material is only compostable in industrial conditions, preferably in a special device (Tarra, Oklin) to obtain the compost after only 24 hours”. And the CEO of SPV recalls that this contest and the respective prize is also a way of “generating recommendations to identify and disseminate best practices and initiatives, related to the use, production, recycling and capture of EPS / XPS after its use”. Also, to encourage the improvement of a product that is entering the market. As is the case with the winner, who is currently looking for a costumer (supermarket).
The message to be taken from the initiative is, above all, that “it is essential to continue to warn about the daily impact of our actions on the marine environment and remember its importance for human life”, concludes Ana Trigo Morais.
Teresa Franqueira is a professor and researcher at the Department of Communication and Art at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, and was elected, in past December, the international coordinator of the network for social innovation and sustainability of the DESIS (Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability).
She argues that, without design, sustainability is difficult to achieve. For this very reason, she accepted the challenge of organizing the first Hackathon hosted by the OCEANWISE project at Design Factory Aveiro (DFA). The hackathon challenged over 40 participants to create innovative solutions to solve problems linked to the worrying source of foamed polystyrene products (EPS and XPS) marine litter in the Atlantic Ocean.
We went to meet her and took four questions with us.
You recently assumed the coordination of the international network of DESIS, which promotes sustainable changes based on design. What strength can design give to sustainable creation?
Design plays a fundamental role in the design of sustainable solutions. There are studies that state that 70 to 80% of the environmental impact of products is defined in the initial design phase and are the design decisions, from the type of materials to disposal at the end of the life cycle, through the interaction and emotional relationship that users, which determine future behavior. In addition to products, design plays a decisive role in the creation of product-service systems, in which it is possible to reduce the idea of ownership and move on to the concept of usufruct and sharing, reducing the ecological footprint. If we think about service design or design for social innovation, we can see the importance of design in creating new, more sustainable behaviors.
The first Hackathon, in December last year. You were there. How important can it be to unite students and professionals in the field of design for marine sustainability?
Design Factory Aveiro was responsible for organizing the 1st Hackathon and my participation was in that role. Design’s contribution is extremely important for the development of products and services and for the approach and awareness of sustainability. The creation of teams of university students and professionals to jointly develop proposals and tools that contribute to solving the problem of marine litter, guided by Design methodologies and with the support of expert mentors, proved to be the right option and with results useful and interesting for the proposed problem. Students have a more uncompromised view and professionals have more pragmatic views regarding the problem and possible solutions and it is through the combination of these two views that the most creative and innovative proposals often appear. There is a bidirectional learning process that allows you to think of less common and usual strategies.
What are the most interesting solutions that came out of this meeting?
Two very interesting solutions have emerged, focused on consumer awareness and responsibility. One of them more linked to schools and the educational issue and raising awareness among children, which implies experiences and upcycling of waste and garbage, and another with a recycling service to be implemented in retail companies, to raise the awareness of an adult audience that does department stores.
From the point of view of the solutions that have been created internationally to reduce the impact of EPS and XPS on marine sustainability, and having Teresa a position that looks at what is going on abroad: what project would you highlight in terms of design?
There are many initiatives and projects in this area of great quality at national level, mainly in the footwear area. Internationally there are interesting cases in the area of furniture and packaging. I leave some exemples.
From water bottles to furniture, find out the best examples Teresa Franqueira gives from the best solutions:
(AND THE PERKS OF CHANGING THE WORLD)
Night falls, the sun is waiting, it’s time to dock the boat. In the small fishing town of Peniche, in Portugal, the fishermen return from the high seas with the fish and now roll up their sleeves to sell it at the dock. Auction-style or to order. The dirty and wet galoshes, which are not afraid to step on the already dirty floor and sales starts, hurried from side to side. “We have to sell, we have to sell”. They scream for the fish and exposed it on a white platter, common to all types and shapes of fish.
Here, they call it “box”, no more than that. Science has called this material EPS (Expanded Polystyrene products) and the data show that it is one of the biggest predators in the plot that is ocean pollution. The fish goes, the white platters end up where they came from: in the sea..
EPS or XPS is a common problem for the marine wildlife and for humans, especially around the European Union’s Atlantic coasts and sea.
Generally used to produce packaging or in theconstruction sector, although it is recyclable material this process is a rarephenomenon. This is largely due to the low cost-effectiveness rate of transportingand recycling of expanded material – it weighs little in relation to its volume. The lightness of this material makes it easy to be blown away fromlandfills, getting scattered on the ground or, as often occurs, at sea, contaminatingthe food chain. OSPAR beach monitoring reports say small pieces ofpolystyrene are amongst the most common types of marine litter items found. Moreover, because it flakes so easily and gets fragmented into small particles, it can randomly travel long distances.
This problem is the motto for the work developed by the OCEANWISEproject, which already promises to make the world a better place.But did you know there is a company thatalready shows evidence of really changing the world in this field? BEWiSynbrahas only existed for a year, but it is already the only company in Europe thatmakes total recycling of EPS. A process based on the concept ofcircular economy. And speaking of circular economy: in Spain, there is a teamdedicated to creating a tool that aims to help European companies to applycircular economy in their businesses. In Ireland, the Principal Officer of the Waste Policy and Resource Efficiency Division at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment told us how his country is currently positioned on EPS recycling compared to other. And what does the famousGreen Deal say about recycling EPS? We explore all of these topics in this newsletter.
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.
. 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. More infrastructure
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’
Is goals is to develop a common methodology for sustainable products.
From local to national
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.
It feels like when we launch a boomerang: if you do it right, it doesn
‘t matter how far it gets, because it will come back towards us. This is the ambition of the BEWiSynbra company: to make all the EPS and XPS produced arrive back at its factories, to be recycled and transformed, sold and then return yet again later.
“It is the real circular economy in action , says the Portuguese managing director Pedro Luís. With recycling factories in five countries (Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark) and just one year of existence of this strand of action – it was already one of the largest producers of EPS -, the company wants to promote the often-overlooked idea that these materials are 100% recyclable and should not end up in landfills or in the oceans, as they usually do.
“WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND”
We are in Almargem do Bispo, one of the most rural villages in the municipality of Sintra, Portugal. Amidst old and renovated houses, a set of large white pavilions stands out. As soon as we get there, we are overwhelmed by the factory noise that echoes from this place: blades in motion, objects in crushers, things to be dragge and – by the steam that is noticeable in the air –, and also things to be heated to high temperatures. We are at the Portuguese BEWi factory, where a thousand tons of EPS and XPS are being prepared to be transformed: clean of impurities and gases, recycled and ready to be used again for countless applications: in the construction sector (for the insulation of houses), for fish boxes, for cold or hot food packaging, in the pharmaceutical industry for the transport of drugs, among others. BEWiSynbra collects EPS and XPS, treats the material through a non-chemical process, transforms it into granules and sells it to companies that will give it other forms
It seems impossible that the idea is new in Europe: to build a factory capable of recycling 100% of all the EPS and XPS that arrives. So far, as explain by Pedro Luís, “there were companies that did it, but the recycled material could only be used in construction”.
“EPS plates were placed in the houses, for their insulation, and stayed there. To produce more, we would always have to resort to virgin raw materials and not recycle the existing one. There was no solution to what, in my opinion, was the biggest problem, that is the fish boxes.
” With the new tools that BEWi currently has, capable of removing all impurities and gases from the material through a non-chemical process (using only water and high temperatures), the opportunities that come from recycling are endless.
After the process, the treated material is no longer EPS or XPS and becomes only PS polystyrene), because it is no longer an expanded material.
“It returns to being a final product”
. In the end, it looks like small pearls of sand. Almost translucent (because all the dirt that came with it was removed from the material), smooth and light.
In Portugal, the company is already able to recycle 98% of all EPS and XPS produced.
“What goes around comes around”.
One of the biggest reasons for this successful statistic is because the company was able to implement a system for collecting these materials from the docks, from north to south of the country. Pedro Luís recalls that the challenge was precisely where to place the fish boxes after being used by the fishermen and then transporting them.
“The fishermen ended up weaving them on the ground or trying to break them so that they could fit in a common waste container – and there were always pieces that fell to the ground and went with the wind or to the sea.
” Therefore they decided to implement large EPS ecopoints on the docks – an ample space limited by railings, where BEWi will later collect the discarded boxes.
Transport itself can be an “ungrateful”
process, says Pedro Luís. It is a very light material, but it is really bulky, so it does not make travel profitable. To face this challenge, BEWi is delivering vertical compactors in some fishing ports in the country,capable of crushing the fish boxes and allowing the company to transport more material in one trip. Both ideas emerged from multiple meetings with the OCEANWISE project, with whom Pedro Luís has been in contact for at least three years – even when he worked in another EPS treatment company.
The next step for the company is to enter the food industry directly. In Sweden and Norway, where they are based, they are already developing partnerships at laboratory level with some other companies. The point here is to ensure not direct contact, but the manufacture of that packaging with an outer layer. The path involves a series of tests and certifications, to ensure that the final product is safe in an industry as sensitive as food industry. But the managing director already estimates the certification
“will arrive next year, guaranteed”.
“Here’s where redesign begins in earnest, where we stop trying to be less bad and we start figuring out how to be good”
This quote is very familiar to Carlos León. It sounds like a new beginning and reminds him of the change he decided to make in his life in 2013, after reading this sentence in the book Cradle to Cradle: Redoing the way we do things, published at the beginning of the millennium by the German chemist Michael Braungart and the architect American William McDonough.
“I started to think if I could dedicate myself to an activity that adds value to society, taking advantage of my experience in designing and developing systems and products, so as not to generate waste in the product design phase”.
At this time, he was also beginning to understand the concept of the circular economy, while the European Union was taking its first steps in the development of an action plan for the circular economy – published in 2015.
“From there I decided to start the adventure to create a consultancy and finally…
” Sustainn was born in late 2014. Carlos Leon is the co-founder of this company that helps companies and administrations to implement the principles of circular economy in their activities based on strategy, business model and development of products and services”.
This company, located in Pamplona and Barcelon (Spain), not only provide consulting services to accompany organizations
“in their transition to circular economy in a sustainable way”, but also develop methodologies and tools to help other companies implement it.
“Always thinking about the triple dimension: economic, environmental and social”, says Carlos León.
CIRCULAR ECONOMY FOR ALL
Carlos León, co-founder of Sustainn
One of those projects is being developed within OCEANWISE. Sustainn leads the work package called WP6 (Circularity Indicators and Tools) that aims to create a methodology to evaluate the circularity and sustainability of current Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) and Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) solutions,“ as well as alternative solutions that may arise as a result of the development of the project”.
This work can also help make alternative products and applications for EPS / XPS more circular and sustainable. How exactly will this work out? “First of all, it helps to map of the value stream of the product or application and to identify all possible variants. Subsequently to identify the economic, environmental and social impacts throughout the life cycle of a product or application and to measure its circularity and sustainability. It helps also to identify critical parameters related to sustainability and circularity and to, finally, identify opportunities to improve circularity and sustainability throughout the life cycle of a specific EPS / XPS product or application.
” The co-founder of Sustainn also tells us that there is the ambition this tool can help“
other agents in the value chain to assess the economic, environmental and social impact of their activities and potential improvements to their processes and technologies throughout the life cycle of EPS / XPS products and applications”.
In any case, being aware of our ecological footprint of our products is the principle of everything. The result depends not only on the product produced – and the materials that compose it. Neither only from energy consumption and the generation of waste and emissions in all operations throughout the life cycle of this product, as well as transport activities. According to Carlos León, it is important to realize that “the degree of socio-economic development and the technologies available in each location have an important influence on the environmental impacts that are produced”.
Since we speak of location as a factor, which countries are better on applying the circular economy? The co-founder of Sustainn does not hesitate to point out the countries of northern Europe (France, Holland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden) as the following examples. And justifies: in general, they “have more integrated care for the environment in society and have an advantage in the development of policies and strategies at a country level. Therefore, it is easier to implement all these concepts in different areas, from education, entrepreneurship to companies with the development of new business models, products and services In Spain, his native land, environmental awareness has been increasing little by little in recent years” but the concept of circular economy
“has not just reached citizens or small and medium-sized companies ”. In his view, the development of practical tools and methodologies like those you are creating can be the key to success. While recognizing that it is necessary to go further and start by taking these tools to schools and universities, “so that new generations already have this concept integrated and can use it in their daily consumption decisions and for the development of their professional careers.
How is Ireland currently positioned in EPS recycling compared to other countries?
What is done and what is expected to be done?
Ireland has made some major progress in recent years in terms of material recycling but Expanded Polystyrene Foam is not commonly recycled and is placed in the general waste bin.
Where does Ireland detect the greatest presence of EPS?
We have a website called mywaste.ie that has information for householders and commercial operators on waste issues. The EPA completed a waste characterisation study in 2019 showing the make up of household and commercial bins. All sectors need to examine how they will assist in our transition from a linear to a circular economy and the removal of difficult to recycle products is one way to help achieve the changes required.
What is the next step in Ireland on EPS recycling?
Ireland recently published a new 5 year Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy andthe steps we are going to take across all waste streams are clearly laid out in this plan.
Manufacturers and product designers have a critical role to play in phasing out the useof materials that are not commonly recycled.
What are the biggest challenges in the world regarding the recycling of this material?
Recycling facilities are constantly evolving and will look for any value materials that can be easily recycled. Our initial focus must remain on waste prevention and designing out he use of materials that are not easy to recycle. The introduction of eco-modulated fees will assist in the transition to the use of easy to recycle products.
Four quest ons to
Principal Officer of the Waste Policy and Resource Efficiency Division at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment of IRELAND
W W W . O C E A N W I S E – P R O J E C T . E U
The OceanWise project is co-financed by
the European Regional Development Fund
through the Interreg Atlantic Area
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