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Closing the styrofoam loop is getting closer

The common availability and wide spectrum of applications mean that plastics have had for years a huge impact on the development of many industrial sectors and on the everyday life of every person. Thanks to their unique properties, they play an important role in ensuring a more sustainable future, for example in areas such as mobility, smart construction, sustainable agriculture, food security and health care. The key challenge for the industry has become to solve the problem of littering the world with plastics by closing their circulation not in the natural environment, but in recycling processes.

Expanded polystyrene, commonly known as styrofoam, is an example of a fully recyclable material. Mechanical recycling of pure styrofoam waste has been carried out for a long time. In the near future also other types of this waste will be able to be recovered. The process of chemical recycling will be responsible for this. It will be based on dissolution and depolymerization technologies enabling the conversion of polystyrene back to the original styrene monomer. This will allow the recyclable polystyrene to be reused multiple times for the production of products that require specific high quality parameters, including those that will have contact with food.

Synthos and other European styrofoam market players have joined forces to build a technically, economically and environmentally sustainable closed recycling system for polystyrene foams. The PolyStyreneLoop project is an innovative solution in which polystyrene insulation waste, used in construction, is processed to a base form using an innovative method of dissolution. It enables the elimination of additives used for some polystyrene insulation materials and delivery of high quality polystyrene recyclate. The project, implemented under the LIFE program, has received the support of the European Commission, which recognizes its "significant contribution to the EU's efforts to develop a sustainable, low-carbon, resource-efficient and competitive economy." Brussels’ support has become an important impulse for the European EPS sector to start building a demonstration EPS recycling plant in Terneuzen, the Netherlands. Based on the experience gained in this plant, further recycling installations throughout Europe, including Oświęcim have been planned.

However, the biggest challenge remains how to ensure stable supplies of EPS waste. This will not be possible to obtain if different streams of styrofoam waste will maintain different legal and organizational rules. For example, it is not possible to combine wastes from the construction and renovation investment process with those from home appliances or those being treated as medical waste. A good chance to change the situation is the process initiated by the European Commission throughout Europe. It aims at implementing new requirements related to extended producer’s responsibility based on the uniform legal, organizational and financial guidelines. It will enable reaching stability of the EPS waste delivery system from various sources and from different suppliers. This stability is a prerequisite for optimizing transport costs, which can occur, for example, by compacting waste, and for reducing the number of pre-process operations related to the proper preparation of waste that will be directly used in recycling processes.

Synthos S.A. Group is an active participant of European initiatives intended to accelerate reaching the state of polystyrene circulation. For several years now, it has been taking measures to ensure a systemic and comprehensive approach of public institutions to the recycling of polystyrene and EPS. The direct involvement of a growing group of business partners cooperating with Synthos plays an important role in this process. Converters, brand owners, local government units and companies dealing with the management of waste from municipal streams have been actively involved. The companies dealing with the collection and management of demolition waste as well as the packaging waste collection/repurchase centres are not lagging behind. Therefore, there is a real opportunity to achieve the recycling levels set by European polystyrene industry: to achieve 50% rate of recycling and reuse of packaging waste in 2025.

According to the circular economy model, an increasing amount of recycled material must be introduced into the closed-loop in the EPS life cycle. However, this requires a functioning B2B market and conscious consumers, who need to be certain that each product containing recycled material is safe. Ensuring the safety of recycled plystyrene is a major challenge for the Synthos Group. In the next few years, the Company intends to face this challenge by taking care of people and the environment.


Jolanta Okońska-Kubica
Proxy of the Management Board, Synthos S.A.

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