The environmental performance of products and processes has become a key issue to businesses and consumers, which is why many industries are investigating ways to minimize their effects on the environment. Several have found it advantageous to explore ways of moving beyond compliance using pollution prevention strategies and environmental management systems to improve their environmental performance. One such tool is life-cycle analysis, which considers the environmental impact of the entire life of a product.
The EPS industry has invested significant time and resources towards life cycle analysis. Credibility demands that when a claim is made about a products exceptional performance, exceptional evidence should be presented. The EPS-IA is dedicated to accurately promoting the facts about EPS and its effect on our world, and has conducted several extensive EPS Life Cycle Assessments and Analysis Reports to provide convincing information on EPS environmental impacts and sustainability benefits. The reports quantifies resource use, taking into account all the benefits, energy costs and emissions to air, water and soil required to produce and manufacture EPS from cradle-to-cradle and from cradle-to-grave. The studies offer full data transparency of EPS properties and environmental implications.
EPS-IA has conducted life cycle analyses for EPS insulation, and more specifically for structural insulated panels. Each study discovered that the use of EPS as insulation yields a positive energy benefit that exceeds the energy required for its production and transportation (also known as “investment). In fact, EPS insulation can return up to 200 times the amount of energy required to produce it, and reduce emissions by up to 100 times the volume produced during the manufacturing process, representing an energy payback period of less than 17 months and a recapture of green house gas emissions in less than 10 months.
EPS is capable of such a large return on investment because of its long life-span and ability to reduce energy consumption needs. A large amount of power that is produced is dedicated to maintaining the internal environmental quality of buildings (e.g. heating and cooling). Proper insulation increases a building's R-value, which is a measurement of the amount of thermal resistance of the building’s exterior. EPS insulation significantly increases R-value, thus reducing the amount of energy necessary to heat and cool a structure. EPS insulation can be expected to last for decades, and at the end of its life, much of it can be recycled.
The full report from which most of this data originates has been submitted to the U.S. Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) database, maintained by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy. The LCI data can be used as regional benchmarks to generate or assess company, plant, or new technology data; to develop environmentally oriented decision support systems; and to develop life cycle analysis tools.
EPS-IA has also conducted analyses that evaluated the use of EPS as a shipping material compared to alternatives. While sometimes EPS is not necessarily the best choice for packaging, the study concluded that the benefits of EPS are significant. EPS not only offers a safe, lightweight option for packaging material, but is also a fully recyclable material with low environmental impact.
More specifically, the assessment—from raw material acquisition to processing, transportation and final disposition—shows that as recycling increases, atmospheric and waterborne emissions decrease by up to 9%. Simultaneously, energy use can achieve a 14% reduction depending on the level of recycled content and the actual recycling method. EPS-IA has created an Environmental Profile Analysis that offers a summary of this report. To receive the full EPS Life Cycle Analysis Report, contact EPS-IA .
A life cycle inventory commissioned by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), with assistance from the U.S. EPA, illustrates an important environmental caveat: recyclability and recycled content are not always good predictors of environmental burdens. The study, conducted by Franklin Associates, Ltd., takes a close look at 26 different packaging options to better understand environmental and natural resource impacts. Polystyrene loose fill and molded pulp loose fill were among the void fill materials analyzed. The report concludes that just because a packaging material is easy for consumers to recycle doesn’t guarantee that it has lower environmental burdens, and that high post-consumer content materials are not guaranteed to have lower burdens. The study also determined that a box shipped with polystyrene loose fill requires less energy over its life cycle and stresses that high post-consumer recycled content should not be the primary driver for selecting a packaging material. View the Oregon DEQ study summary, Packaging Options for Shipping Soft Goods in E-Commerce and Catalog Sales, for more details.