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Styrofoam Packaging

How Green is Your Packaging?

Styrofoam is a derivative of polystyrene, which is a resilient kind of plastic.  It is made by combining benzene and erethylene, and it is extremely pliable and lightweight.  It is usually injected or blown into moulds or extruded into the desired shapes.  It is probably the most practical, lightweight and multi-purpose packaging material in use today.  It can also be used for insulation, and is increasingly being used as a construction material in modern buildings.  It is even pumped into wall spaces for soundproofing and insulation or waterproofing. 

Polystyrene products have been around for a long time – think for example of disposable cups or the packaging materials of white goods, but the discovery of this valuable chemical combination was made quite accidentally.  In the mid 1800’s, a chemist was trying to make plastic, and made the first version of this material with resin.  He considered it a mistake and abandoned further research.  It was only much later that an organic chemist, H Staudinger, realised the value of this product and continued to develop it into a plastic polymer.  Staudinger won the Nobel Chemistry Prize for this research.  Polystyrene was only manufactured commercially around 1930, and only then the material became available on the market.

Strangely enough, Styrofoam, the most common polystyrene derivative, was also discovered accidentally.  Scientists were actually intending to develop electrical insulation, as polystyrene served as a good insulator, but was too fragile and broke easily. In order to make the material more flexible and strong, another chemical, isobutylene, was pressured into polystyrene, resulting in Styrofoam, which is a lot lighter, durable and flexible than normal polystyrene.  Styrofoam was officially launched on the market in 1954, and it has been used in all kinds of formats and functionalities ever since.

The problem with polystyrene products is that it is not biodegradable, as it contains petroleum by-products, known as EPS.  In a world where environmental consciousness is very prominent, this quite often becomes an issue.  It is estimated that around a quarter of our landfills are filled up by EPS based products.  The answer is to re-use or recycle these products.  Re-using polystyrene products can be relatively easy, but recycling is another matter, as breaking down EPS it can be costly and time intensive.  It is therefore advised that consumers try to re-use these products as far as possible.  Currently scientists are working hard on finding organic and biodegradable replacements for EPS, and these are slowly finding their way into the market.  A good example of this is a type of packaging made from cornstarch, which is non-toxic and can be biodegraded if discarded on landfills.

Large companies are also becoming more environmentally conscious and are under pressure to use less EPS based products, or to provide means to re-use them.  Some courier companies have receptacles where receivers of mail items can drop off their packaging peanuts.  These are then re-used in other couriered items.  Other companies are using materials containing less EPS or alternative packaging to EPS based products.  Some companies even pay for their EPS based products to be recycled.

On an individual basis, avoid throwing EPS based products away into landfill, and try to re-use instead.  Good ideas are to donate it to a local school or craft centre for art projects, or even making DYI home decorations and other projects at home.  There is now a multitude of decoration ideas available on the internet.  Polystyrene pellets can even be used to supplement potting soil for plants.

When acquiring packaging materials, it is wise to discuss specific requirements with your supplier.  The International Group of Companies have a wide range of packaging materials available which included cardboard, plastics, fomo and various others.  In some cases, materials containing EPS may be the most obvious choice but not always the wisest choice and the International Group of Companies may have alternatives which are just as practical but better, and environmentally friendly.  Their wide range of packaging options should be able to provide a suitable solution.

In addition to their products, other products which complement their packaging can also be supplied.  This includes fastening materials such as box tape, staples and staplers, labels and plastic wrapping. 

Make your life easier – instead of spending your valuable time contacting various different companies for packaging, just contact the International Group, who can advise on any form and type of packaging and fasteners.