Recycled plastic is a valuable resourceCellular plastic is a valuable resource. BEWI – one of Europe’s largest producers of cellular plastic – works hard to ensure the maximum possible recycling of the unique material.
"Plastic is only a problem if we don't recycle it"
Cellular plastic is a collective name for a variety of different expanding plastics or expanded polystyrene (EPS). What many people do not know is that EPS is a unique plastic that can be recycled, over and over again. BEWI produces EPS and has control over the entire chain – from raw material to finished product. One of the goals is to lead the change towards a circular economy for the whole EPS industry. You see it as your job to make people understand that EPS is a precious resource and fully recyclable, says Jonas Siljeskär, COO of BEWI:
– Plastic is only a problem if we do not recycle it. Today, EPS is thrown among ordinary garbage for incineration or landfill which is a major problem. We take responsibility for our part in this.
Long before sustainability became a buzzword, BEWI has been committed to sustainability and focused on reusing EPS as much as possible.
– We were early in taking a leading position in recycling issues, and I am part of a management team that shows both decisiveness and a strong commitment to sustainability. There is a pride in what we do here, and I am triggered by the fact that we can make good results and also sustainable changes.
Undeserved bad reputation
He believes that EPS has an undeserved bad reputation. The reason for this is that people and also politicians lack facts. But EPS should not be seen as rubbish and consumable resource.
– Very few would throw away a newspaper. We are used to that being recycled, and in the same way, we want to take care of EPS. And we want to be a part of this and lead the change in our industry.
– We as a company must take back the resources. We push this because we have a social responsibility, but also because we see it as a business opportunity. More and more customers are demanding recycled EPS.
EPS has many sustainable advantages over alternative materials. Unlike corrugated cardboard, which can be recycled six to seven times, EPS can be recycled again and again, indefinitely. It is also a very light material. The material contains 98 per cent air, and the remaining two per cent consists of polystyrene, which is a pure hydrocarbon.
EPS also has excellent thermal properties and can retain both cooling and heat. Therefore, it helps reduce food waste during transport.
Collection and reuse of EPS
BEWI is investing heavily in the collection and recycling of EPS and has taken an important strategic step to achieve its sustainability goals.
– For many years we have used recycled EPS in production, but now we do this on a completely different scale. In 2019, we implemented many measures – both to increase the collection of spent EPS and to recover it.
– Also, sustainability is a driving force in our product development. Our goal is to continually develop raw materials and products that are more sustainable, such as lighter products or Biofoam, which is a raw material made from vegetable material.
BEWI is the first to offer 100 per cent recycled EPS. The finished material does not show any quality difference. It may not be as white as the original, but so far, the response from customers has been very positive – they want to be able to show that they are using recycled material.
– Of course, companies have mixed up used and raw material in the production before. But to actively collect and recycle from the market and make new product 100 per cent from recycled material, there we are first, says Jonas Siljeskär and continues:
– We are seeing high demand from our customers for more environmentally friendly solutions. Some customers want products made of, for example, 50 per cent recycled material, while others want 100 per cent. We will offer a range of products based on recycled materials and work with our customers – and their customers – to find solutions for more efficient collection of used EPS.
In the spring of 2019, BEWI acquired Belgian recycling company EcoFill and Danish Eurec. The reason for the acquisitions was, of course, to further strengthen the initiative to collect and recover EPS.
– We have also established a new recycling company in Portugal. We have set an ambitious goal of recycling 60,000 tonnes each year, which is about 30 per cent of our production of around 180,000 tonnes of EPS per year. At present, we recover 15,000 tonnes, which corresponds to about nine per cent. We hope to reach the goal within 3-5 years, concludes Jonas Siljeskär.
Did you know that EPS…
… Consists of 98% air and 2% raw material
… Can be recycled again and again without losing its good qualities
… Is a very light material – a cubic can be lifted with one hand
… Is optimal for insulation – both to preserve cold and heat – when air insulates
… Is shock absorbing and is therefore used for, for example, bicycle helmets and in cars