Think you know about EPS as an insulation material?

Following a recent conversation with one of our clients I realised that there's a lot of myths behind the use of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) as an insulation material. We do also us Polyurethane (PU), however EPS is much cheaper and performs almost as well, the following is an extract from the British Packaging industry website. It discusses packaging for food, demonstrating it's non toxic and inert status and goes on to discuss the whole life cycle of EPS as a product.

EPS is a waterproof, closed cell material, this means that combined with our Magnesium Oxide facing boards, means that you can build in any weather and temperature as this is a dry, composite material.

We also recycle everything, our EPS is recycled as discussed in a previous article, see my zero waste artcle. This is a safe, high performance material, it may not have the cache as CLT or timber products but it can perform to the same or higher standards. SIP panels also allow for greater internal volumes for the same footprint as we can achieve a higher performance with a slimmer wall, typically less than 200mm as a finished dimension.

MgO and EPS SIP Panel

EPS is a material that provides the preferred packaging solutions for the protection of high value, high fragility products - for transporting and protecting everything from human organs to sensitive electronics and IT equipment and to delicate foodstuffs such as fruit, fresh meat and fish.

EPS is both rigid, closed cell, thermoplastic foam materials. EPS is produced from solid beads of polystyrene. Expansion is achieved by virtue of small amounts of gas contained within the polystyrene bead. The gas expands when heat in the form of steam is applied, thus forming closed cells of EPS. These cells occupy approximately 40 times the volume of the original polystyrene bead. The large EPS blocks beads can be fabricated per specification to form customised shapes.

Benefits of Foamed Polystyrene

Lightweight: EPS is made of 98% air, making it one of the lightest packaging materials. It adds very little to the weight of the packaging, so transport costs and fuel emissions are kept to a minimum.


The 2% polystyrene cellular matrix gives outstanding impact resistance. The outstanding shock absorbency of expanded polystyrene packaging guarantees the protection of products.


The thermal insulating properties of EPS help keep food fresh and prevent condensation throughout the distribution chain. It is used in the fish industry for the packaging of chilled products and in the agricultural sector for seed trays and the packing of fruit and vegetables. It acts as an insulator keeping products cold or warm depending on the application. EPS has a reduced thermal conductivity, with a density of about 28-45kg/m3. It therefore acts as an insulator keeping products cold or warm depending on the application.

Versatile and easily branded:

EPS can be custom-shaped to protect the smallest electrical component or the largest fridge-freezer. This reduces the amount of packaging required, resulting in savings on space, distribution and damaged-goods costs. It can be clearly marked with the contents or company logo and labeling can be attached directly to the packaging.

Hygienic and Safe:

EPS is non-toxic and chemically inert. Fungi and bacteria cannot grow on it.


EPS is insoluble and non-hygroscopic.

Low Carbon Impacts:

Clean manufacturing technologies mean minimal energy and water inputs with no production waste.


Highly efficient manufacture and localised production units mean it is a low cost, proven solution.

Environmental Facts:

The protective performance of EPS helps to reduce wastage caused by goods that are broken or damaged in the supply chain. This saves resources of energy, materials and transportation.

The use of EPS helps to prevent food wastage. Due to its foamed nature it protects the food and avoids damage in the various stages of production and shipment from farm to fork, ensuring that many different foods reach the retailer or consumer in perfect condition.

Recycling EPS offcuts

EPS is HFC, CFC and HCFC free and Pentane is used as its blowing agent. Pentane has a low Global Warming Potential* (GWP) of less than five. (The EU does not register pentane as a substance hazardous to human health or the environment.).

EPS is extremely lightweight. This helps to reduce fuel consumption, when goods are transported compared to other heavier packaging materials.

Styrene, used in the manufacture of EPS, occurs naturally in many commonplace products including strawberries, beans, nuts, beer, wine, coffee beans and cinnamon.

The manufacture of EPS is a low pollution process. Steam is the key ingredient and the water is re-used many times. There is no waste in the process as all cut off or rejects are re-used.

Only 0.1% of total oil consumption is used to manufacture EPS.

The carbon footprint of EPS is lower than many other packaging materials in use today.

End of Life

EPS can be successfully recovered and recycled where facilities exist. However, due it being extremely lightweight it is not currently recycled on a worldwide scale.

Where the infrastructure for recycling is not currently in place it is the ideal candidate to be submitted to energy from waste schemes due to its high calorific value.

EPS, sourced from packaging waste, is an ideal source material for EfW schemes. Today it only represents 0.1% of municipal solid waste (MSW) although many believe it’s a lot more due to its bulky nature!

The key benefit of using EPS for EfW is that it has a high calorific value (46,000 kj/kg) not dissimilar to natural gas at 48,000 kj/kg. EPS waste deposited in the bins of one household in the UK over one year contains enough energy to heat water for 500 baths or to keep the television switched on for 5,000 hours.

There are also no toxic emissions in this method of waste management of EPS as it is incinerated in modern plants at very high temperatures. The bi-products are therefore only steam, carbon dioxide and very low levels of non toxic ash. These emissions are less contaminating than a typical camp fire and in fact there is no credible evidence that EfW schemes have any impact on public health.

EfW emissions are strictly controlled and the UK Government’s ‘Waste Strategy for England 2007’ saw ‘no credible evidence of adverse health outcome’ from EfW emissions.

The BPF strongly encourages, where it is not feasible for a packaging product to be recycled, that it should be sent to an EfW plant where energy recovered would provide much needed home-grown power.

Sustainability is key to producing our advanced build systems, call Phil Slater for a chat about your project, 07563 770981 or email

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