Material description and quantity estimation
Due to its durability and thermal insulation capacity, EPS, expanded polystyrene, is widely used in the construction industry and construction and as a packaging material. EPS plastic packages are considered plastic packages that fall under the producer responsibility, and they can be sorted to the same container as mixed plastic packaging. EPS submitted for recycling cannot, however, be utilised as a material at the moment, since it crumbles easily during the sorting process. The material is also very porous, due to which it easily collects dirt and liquids. EPS plastic can, however, be utilised as energy. The EPS boards used in construction, on the other hand, do not fall under producer responsibility. Suomen Uusiomuovi Oy is responsible for the collection of EPS plastic. (Suomen Uusiomuovi Oy 2018.)
EPS packages that have been used, but are no longer in use, in business operations can, however, be recycled, as that kind of material is usually of uniform quality. Usually, e.g., the packages used by fish processing plants, shopping centres, and household product companies are suitable for recycling, as is the EPS side stream produced by the manufacturing industry. PS-Processing Oy, which operates in Laitila, Finland, collects EPS plastic waste produced by companies. The recycling rate of the collected material is approximately 95%. The remaining 5% is lost during the process. Recycled plastic products are manufactured from recycled EPS plastic. PS-Processing Oy operates in most parts of Finland and processes approximately 300 tonnes of EPS plastic every year. The construction insulation industry and shopping centres or large concentrations of shops present, in total, an additional potential of approximately 1,000 tonnes a year. (Sulo 2017.)
No regional or national information on the total amount of EPS plastic is available. At the moment, there is no separate collection or a comprehensive system for the recovery of EPS plastic. EPS material gets mixed in with the mixed and combustible waste that falls under municipal responsibility. It also gets carried along with plastic packages to operators subject to producer responsibility and companies that accept waste from other companies.
For instance, in terms of tonnes, only a little EPS is received at the Sortti Stations in the capital region. At the moment, EPS ends up in energy recovery as mixed waste, although separate collection has also been tried some years ago. At the time, the significant space requirement of EPS and the accumulation of litter at the station due to the lightness of the material were found challenging. If these reception-related challenges could be solved and if there were some entity to utilise the material, there would, in principal, be no obstacles to the organisation of collection. (Mäntynen 2018.)
Following innovation needs are related to EPS plastic:
- The low volume weight of the material and the related challenges for both the recipient of the material (space requirement, accumulation of litter) and the recovery operator (optimisation of transportation)
- Identification of the entities offering the material and the development of a collection system
- Rationalisation of the removal of contaminants from the material
- Development of the sorting process
Business-related challenges and opportunities
In addition to reuse, EPS insulation material that is no longer used can also be utilised, e.g., by crushing it into granules and using the granules again in the manufacture of EPS or using the granules in the manufacture of lightweight concrete, lightweight bricks, and masonry blocks. (Hoikkala). For instance, frost insulation material can also be manufactured from EPS waste (Siri 2012). According to Tittarelli et al. (2016), using recycled EPS can yield savings of 25% in the construction of thermal insulation.
References (mainly in Finnish)
Hoikkala, S. Ei päiväystä. Muovit rakentamisessa – EPS- eristeet.
Mäntynen, M. Käyttöpäällikkö, HSY. Henkilökohtainen tiedonanto 3.1.2018.
PS Processing Oy 2017 [luettu 4.12.2017]
Sulo, S. 2017. PS-Processing Oy. Puhelu 14.11.2017.
Siri S. 2012: Asuinkerrostalon purkutyön materiaalivirtaseuranta, Opinnäytetyö, Lahden ammattikorkeakoulu.
Suomen Uusiomuovi Oy 2018 [luettu 26.1.2018]
Tittarelli. F., Giosuè. C., Mobili A., di Perna C. & Monosi., S. 2016: Effect of Using Recycled Instead of Virgin EPS in Lightweight Mortars. Procedia Engineering Volume 161, 2016, p. 660-665