Molded EPS Containers Feature Expanded Benefits

The popular material deserves a second look when it comes to environmental issues.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is often a preferred material for thermal containers. A cost-effective insulating material, EPS also  features high performance in shock absorption and compression resistance.

From an environmental standpoint, it is often saddled with a bad rap as an inert material that doesn’t degrade in landfills, according to speakers at a panel presentation on green transportation packaging at Interphex.

But EPS is efficiently recycled for reuse in containers or a host of other applications. Moreover, newer custom molded shipping systems offer environmental advantages in using less material and carrying larger payloads for longer durations.

In minimizing weight and increasing payload capacity, these designs in addition enhance thermal performance while providing more cost-efficient shipping, said panelist Ray Pidock, business manager, cold chain products group, EFP Corp. (Elkhart, IN).
“Next-generation shippers create a more efficient shipping solution.  People don’t think about the savings in freight costs. You are spending somewhat more on the packaging, but the system pays off on a cost-per-payload basis,” Pidock says.

EPS recycling programs by companies including Walmart and Sanofi-Aventis have been highly successful. In its closed-loop program, Walmart recycles recovered EPS packaging for remanufacturing into picture frames sold in Walmart stores. Partnered with the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers (AFPR), Sanofi-Aventis developed its prepaid mail back program for EPS vaccine packaging sent to doctors and hospitals.

Recyclers offer programs for accepting EPS from businesses and consumers. JML Recycling (Grand Rapids, MI) recycles EPS into bricks that are economically shipped for a variety of uses. “You can make a high-value solid polystyrene product. Recyclers will pay high value for EPS if they can buy (from a source) month after month,” said Al Valkema, sales manager.
“Recyclablity is one of the tangible factors (in the sustainability equation) that people can tie results to,” said panelist Betsy Steiner, executive director, AFP.

As an increase in cold-chain shipments highlights the need for packaging disposal solutions, “sustainability is evolving into more fact-based decision making with tools for addressing the trade-offs in any given scenario,” she said.

Shipper design trade-offs weigh material costs with thermal performance, payload capacity, and shipping costs. TimeSaver is a product from Cryopak, a TCP Reliable company.

Steiner noted that sustainability has evolved from the focus in the 1990s on “reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover.” Industry is now moving beyond the life cycle analysis focus of the 2000s to include also socio-economic factors related to packaging materials and processes.

“Our customers are more and more looking to us to show environmental benefits and not just economic benefits,” Pidock says.
“Their end-user customers are driving this to a large extent. Consumers are more environmentally enlightened, and they want to know what happens to the packaging,” he adds.

EFP regrinds and reuses EPS sourced from customers, and hosts drop of stations for used containers.  Product with recycled EPS can contain 60% or more of regrind.

“Most of our product has at least 5% regrind in it. Pharma (however) wants virgin material only as they are concerned about possible contaminates. EPS recovered from construction applications is often modified with a fire retardant additive,” Pidock says.

EFP supplies EPS shippers typically for multiple-product shipments to wholesalers and 3PLs. For pharma clients, the company collaborates with partner TCP Reliable (Edison, NJ) to develop, test, and qualify custom applications using EFP’s PharmTuff
pharma-grade molded solutions.

Molded shipper designs improve thermal performance and reduce the cost of delivered payload. The containers are constructed first with six wire-cut panels. The design is thermally tested and then converted to a one-piece unitized construction with the same dimensions and wall thicknesses. The one-piece molding, with a tongue and grove lid, improves container thermodynamics.

“A molded box will surpass the performance of the 6-panel box. It may give you another four to six hours of (temperature maintenance),” Pidock says.

The approach uses less material. Engineered phase-change materials contribute to a reduction in package size and weight. An exterior corruguated carton (for holding wire cut panels and gels packs in place) is eliminated.

“You are spending more on the packaging, but you are getting a lot more out the door, and saving on freight costs,” Pidock says.
EFP and TCP Reliable help companies assess the cost-effectiveness of container recycling or reuse. “We will advise customers about the availability of local recycling centers, and AFPR is working with some clients on getting reduced freight costs on those returns,” Pidock says.

Companies using a $3 box may find it is cheaper to buy another one than pay for the cost of having it returned. In a reuse scenario, EFP and TCP Reliable will help customers requalify reusable designs.

“We think this message will start to resonate in the next 12 to 18 months. Customers can ship fewer packages with extended delivery times. This is not only a cost saver, but also enables a more efficient use of resources,” Pidock says.

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