Do you use a lot of packing foam and want to go green by recycling it? If so, here are the things you need to know about recycling packaging foam!

Source: enkoProducts

Packing foam is widely used in the packaging industry because aside from being lightweight, it offers great cushioning and stability. It is also easy to use, cut, and handle. You can use it to protect different types of products to reduce the risk of any damage during transit.

However, it is not easy to recycle packing foam just like when recycling plastic materials. In fact, they can cause great damage to our environment because the majority of them end up in landfills. So, can packing foam be recycled? Let us find out in this article!

Can Packing Foam Be Recycled?

All types of packing foams are lightweight which makes them great choices for packaging and shipping. However, these features also make them hard to recycle. They are too lightweight to be processed by sorting machines and can end up contaminating other recyclables during the recycling process. Moreover, they contain plastic and as we know, plastic does not break down and will contaminate the environment.

However, there are a few ways on how various types of packing foam can be recycled. The answer on how packing foam is recycled depends on the type of material the packing foam is made of. Basically, there are three main types of foam used in the packaging industry:

    • Expanded polystyrene (EPS)
    • Polyethylene (PE)
    • Polyurethane (PU)

In the following sections, we will discuss how each type of packing foam material is recycled.

Packaging Foam Sleeves

: 50
: 12″ x 12″
: 1/8

Is Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Packing Foam Recyclable?

When recycling comes into the topic, EPS foams are among the materials that are hotly debated. The material is composed of only 2% plastic and 98% air. This is why it is cheap, highly versatile, and does a great job of reducing damage to your products. But, despite its attractive features, it is also more expensive to transport and recycle as it occupies considerable space.

Take note, though, that many consumers and businesses around the world recycle EPS foam. In fact, the EPS industry has developed collection facilities to support recycling efforts globally. There are many ways EPS foam can be recycled. They are made into General Purpose Polystyrene to produce synthetic timber, coat hangers, cases for video cassettes, and others. You can check the USA EPS Industry Alliance page for more information.

Now back to recycling EPS. Since EPS is mostly air, it is costly to transport so it needs to be compressed first. This is the reason why many areas do not accept EPS for curbside recycling (processing it is not cost-effective). But, no need to worry because there are recyclers who can handle EPS recycling.

Below is an overview of how EPS foam is recycled:

  1. EPS foams are fed into grinders to cut them into smaller pieces.
  2. A machine compresses the EPS foams to create dense blocks.
  3. Some also heat the foams until they melt and turn into a paste. A densifier extrudes the thick paste and forms it into blocks.
  4. The densified EPS is sold to other manufacturers for reprocessing to create new products.
  5. The reprocessing involves grounding up, melting, and cutting the densified EPS into small pellets.
  6. The reprocessed EPS is made into clothes hangers, picture frames, architectural moldings, building materials, and others.

Is Polyethylene (PE) Packing Foam Recyclable?

Polyethylene foam has among the most useful properties when it comes to packaging:

  • No abrasiveness
  • It can withstand a lot of pressure without performance reduction
  • Great shock absorption properties and dimensional stability
  • Durable and versatile
  • Good compression properties
  • 100% recyclable

Since polyethylene foam is classified as class 4, you can recycle it 100%. To effectively and easily handle PE foam waste, recycling companies use modern recycling machines. PE is a type of thermoplastic so it turns into liquid at a certain melting point. They are made into pellets and new functional products after cooling, injection molding, and reheating them again.

As for reusability, you can still use PE foam in various ways until its life cycle ends due to its excellent cushioning features and durability. It can even withstand multiple impacts. This is why it is among the best materials for packaging even for products with irregular surfaces. 

Is Polyurethane (PU) Packing Foam Recyclable?

The last type of packing foam is made of polyurethane which is widely used as cushioning for various commercial and consumer products. It is durable, light, and supportive and can be made in any firmness and shape. Just like other types of packing foams, polyurethane foam needs to be compressed before it can be recycled. Thus, reducing the shipping costs.

So how is polyurethane recycled? PU packing foams are ground before they are reprocessed to create new products. These include stronger and more durable insulation products, high-density panels, and building materials for insulation. Or, they are made into new packing foams again.

One more way to recycle polyurethane residues is by recovering the energy in them. They become raw materials that replace fossil fuels used in incinerators, heating buildings, and other industrial processes.

Eco Friendly Waste Recycling Strategy

Although packaging foams provide great protection against shock, scratches, and other types of damages, recycling them can be quite challenging. So if you can’t find waste collection services that accept packing foam in your area, consider reusing them instead of throwing them away.

Since packing foams are durable, you can use them repeatedly, so you don’t need to dispose of them after just a single use. You might also be interested in our blog about where to buy cheap packing foam online here.

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