How Does Expanded Polystyrene Impact Natural Resources?

How Does Expanded Polystyrene Impact Natural Resources?

In this blog, we explore the effect of expanded polystyrene (EPS) production and usage on the environment.

Petrochemicals and oil usage 

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) uses oil and petrochemicals in its production. When compared with other areas of industry, this non-renewable resource consumption is negligible.

EPS consists of 98% air. The production of EPS only uses an insignificant quantity of 0,1% of oil. However, this small quantity offers significant oil savings considering the superior thermal insulation properties of EPS, and the amounts of oil needed for heating energy in buildings without thermal insulation.

More than 86% of the oil consumed worldwide becomes fuel for industry transport and in our homes. Only about 3-4% of the world’s oil reserve is used to produce plastics. From this, total plastics packaging manufacturing uses no more than 2% of the world’s oil production. EPS packaging uses even less than 0.1% of this natural resource.

The current use of plastics in Europe per capita is about 30kg a year. To put things into perspective, the amount of oil used for plastics manufacture would only be enough for a 300 km car journey. Correspondingly, EPS oil usage would be insufficient to allow a car to travel to the local supermarket.

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) manufactured by the Isowall Group is fast becoming recognized as the insulation material of choice by specifiers of “Bills of Quantities”. This comes largely as a result of our technical knowledge backed up by years of experience in the building and construction industry.

Landfill waste and pollution

Plastic waste represents just a small fraction than the total municipal solid waste – only about 7%, according to the Expanded Polystyrene Association of Southern Africa (EPSASA). Compare this with the 37% of waste generated in paper products. Plastic waste also represents 1% of the total landfill mass, because packaging waste is lightweight, despite an overall increase in plastic packaging use.

At the end of its life, EPS is either discarded as landfill waste or burned cleanly with energy recovery and for recycling purposes. When recycled, EPS waste can be used several times and converted into various products instead of becoming landfill waste. EPS scrap can be used for a variety of applications from picture frames and skirting boards to seedling trays.

Although EPS waste in landfills is not a preferred option, it does have its advantages as it can contribute to the stability and aeration of the landfill. EPS is inert and non-toxic and does not degrade or leak any substances into groundwater, nor it releases dangerous gas into the atmosphere. Hence EPS does not pose any threat to the ozone layer.

EPS does not, nor has it ever used chlorofluorocarbons in its manufacture or use. Instead, it uses pentane as its blowing agent during the production process. Chemically, pentane is related to methane, a natural gas deriving from a variety of natural sources which decomposes in the atmosphere.

In conclusion, compared to other plastic options, EPS is a viable and sustainable alternative due to its lower energy consumption, emissions, and material waste with a minimum impact on natural resources.

Isowall Group is certified as complying with ISO 14001:2015 environmental and ISO 9001:2015 quality standards. Isowall recycles responsibly. Click here for more information about our ‘zero waste to landfill’ initiative.


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