Polystyrene Packaging Life Cycle Analysis

Molded polystyrene provides cushioning and insulation properties to protect shipped products.  Polystyrene is an amazingly simple material.

             95% Air
              5% Recyclable Plastic

Life Cycles Analysis

Life Cycle Analysis evaluates the cradle to grave impact of products on the environment.  Despite common perceptions, the environment impact of polystyrene is lower than cardboard when a Life Cycle Analysis is conducted.

Comparison of Polystyrene Packaging to Cardboard Packaging

Packaging of a 32" LCD
Cardboard Case 1 = recycled core and new liner.
Cardboard Case 2 = recycled core and recycled liner
Polystyrene packaging clearly has lower energy consumption and CO2 emissions than cardboard packaging. Polystyrene is the more environmentally sound choice.

We must remember the key role of protective packaging.  Protective packaging provides the critical cushion protection that keeps energy intensive finished products from being damaged - and disposed into a landfill.  Polystyrene provides many key protective packaging benefits:

  • Absorbs shocks & vibration
  • Protects temperature sensitive food and medical shipments
  • Lightweight saves fuel during shipping
  • Less energy intensive than alternate materials
  • Less air/water pollution than alternate materials
  • Protects energy intensive products from damage/disposal.

Only after reuse and recycling options have been exhausted should any packaging be deposited into a landfill.  A comparison of U.S. landfill volume for polystyrene containers and packaging compared to paper and paperboard containers and packaging provides a picture what U.S. landfills contain.

Polystyrene containers and packaging comprise only 0.2%, while paper and paperboard containers and packaging are responsible for 11%.

The disposal of paper in landfills and subsequent decomposition results in methane gas being released.  Methane gas is a greenhouse gas that is over 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

1. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of EPS, JEPSRA 2007 http://www.jepsa.jp/en/environment.html.
2.  Municipal Solid Waste in the United States:  2007 Facts & Figures United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Solid Waste (5306P) EPA530-R-08-010 November 2008.