Ellen MacArthur Foundation No Longer Classifies EPS Packaging as Non-Recyclable
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) has long been defamed as an environmentally harmful material that one cannot recycle. However, in March 2023, The Ellen Macarthur Foundation, an international charity dedicated to developing the circular economy, reconsidered the recyclability of EPS packaging.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment project is a body of over 500 businesses and governments working together to eliminate pollution caused by plastic packaging. Global Commitment outlines various sustainability targets for 2025, one of which is to ensure 100% of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable.
Previously, EPS did not qualify as a recyclable plastic. It did not meet the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s definition of recyclability because it was not recycled “in practice and at scale”. To meet these requirements, a material must have a recycling rate of at least 30% in multiple regions worldwide where at least 400 million people reside.
The Danish EPS Association challenged the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s position on EPS packaging’s recyclability in January 2023. The Association provided government reports from Europe, the UK, Japan, and South Korea showing that EPS packaging has indeed been recycled “in practice and at scale” since 2018.
According to the data, EPS packaging has a recycling rate of over 35% in these regions, which are home to at least 689 million people. Thus, it exceeds the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s criteria and should be classified as a recyclable packaging material.
After meeting with the Danish EPS Association to discuss the data in person, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation agreed that EPS is, in fact, widely recycled. In its 2023 Recycling Rate Survey, it no longer claims that expanded polystyrene packaging is not recycled in practice and at scale.
While this is good news for the polystyrene packaging industry, Ellen MacArthur urges the sector to continue collecting recycling data for future discussions.
- EPS Branchen. 2023. Ellen Macarthur Foundation Reclassifies Insulated & Protective EPS Packaging. Recycled a Scale and in Practice!