5 Ways to Improve Sustainability With Foam
We hear it all the time from our customers, and their end users: sustainable packaging is huge. Consumers care about the impact of their material waste, and more and more organizations are following sustainable practices to meet green initiatives.
And we also hear this a lot: “foam isn’t sustainable.” Not true! But we do understand why people think foam is less environmentally-friendly: there’s been a lot of consumer education around recycling paper and plastic – not so much on foam. In some locations, homeowners and businesses are explicitly told not to put EPS or packaging foam into the recycling, which further adds to the confusion. It’s not that foam isn’t sustainable – it’s that there isn’t as much of an infostructure to support end user recycling.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should overlook foam when looking for sustainable options. In fact – packaging foam is quite sustainable, particularly from a manufacturing impact perspective.
5 Ways to Improve Sustainability with Foam
1. Reduce product damage
One of the best ways to reduce your environmental impact is to ensure your products arrive intact. It’s not uncommon for companies to pick easily-recycled materials like paper over other packaging options in the name of sustainability – and while that can be effective for some products, it’s not for all.
If your product isn’t properly protected in transit with the right packaging materials, it’s likely to arrive damaged. A damaged product means needlessly repeating the entire packing and shipping process, which creates more waste.
Each damaged product that has to be replaced has the following effects, on average:
- 01 pounds of methane gas emissions
- 01 trees
- 13 square feet of natural habitat lost
- 8 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity
- 1,697 British thermal units (BTUs) of heat produced
- 7 gallons of fuel
- 10 pounds of solid waste in landfills
- 4 pounds of carbon dioxide gas emissions
If you’re sacrificing protection and risking a damaged product in the name of sustainability, it’s not very sustainable at all.
► Related Content: Check out the EcoGuage Calculator from Pregis to see how much impact YOUR damaged products have
2. Use Less energy in creation
Did you know that producing polyethylene foam takes less energy than non-plastic alternatives? It’s true! Like with choosing an effective packaging material for your specific needs, if you’re picking a non-plastic material because you know it’s recyclable, you may be creating more of a negative environmental impact than if you choose a packaging foam.
3. Use recycled materials
Foam can be industrially recycled – just like other packaging materials. That’s why we at Foam Industries use recycled foam whenever possible to create new foam packaging pieces. Our initiatives include:
- Partnering with Pregis to source recycled PolyPlank® Renew Foam
- Using recycled product whenever possible
- Recycling 99% of our post-industrial waste
- A commitment to a toward zero landfilled material from our building
► Related Content: Learn More About Our Sustainability Initiatives
What makes foam unique when it comes to recycling is its incredible reusability. For example – because polyethylene foam contains thermoplastics, it can be melted, liquified, and then injection-molded and reheated without losing any properties.
4. Post-production recycling
The recyclability of paper and metals is well-known and adapted by consumers. However, foam remains a challenge - while it can be recycled by end users, it’s not widely adapted in the same way. One of our sustainability initiatives is to provide education to consumers on how it can be used. Some of our tips include:
Drop it in the bin or mail it back - In some metro areas, foam can be placed directly into the recycling bin. To see if this applies to your area, the FPI has an interactive map you can use. For EPS foam, it can also be mailed back to the EPS Industry Alliance via USPS or other carriers. Find your mail back location here.
Partner with us to create a plan - Contact us and ask! We know the ins and outs of foam recycling and can tell you what to do. If you’re not sure if you can recycle the foam you have, where to put it, etc. - we can help figure that out for you.
Educate end users - Include this notice with your customers’ invoices and/or shipping emails:
Please help us (and the environment) by recycling the foam pieces that came with your package whenever possible. To find out if your county accepts packaging foam in curbside recycling, use this interactive map: Find Where to Recycle Foam. Thank you!
► Related Content: Contact us for a resource guide to educate end users on recycling foam
5. Re-purpose packaging foam
Another way to make packaging sustainable is to re-purpose it when it reaches the end of its life and can no longer be recycled further. One of the ways we do that here at Foam Industries is with our Hydro-Bricks. We bind together old pieces of polyethylene and polypropylene plastic to to create Hydro-Bricks – which can be used as level cutting surface for 5-axis waterjet cutting!
The possibilities are endless – and if for those who are creatively inclined, packaging foam can easily be used on a small scale in crafting projects. It lends itself really well to cutting and shaping. This is another educational point for your end user on what they can do with leftover foam instead of tossing it into the trash.
When it Comes to Sustainability, We’re Shredding it
Packaging foam has a lot of untapped and underutilized potential when it comes to sustainability. While end user recycling adoption is not at the same level as paper or metal (yet!) – picking packaging foam drastically reduces damaged products, which in turn reduces environmental impact and strain. This makes foam an excellent choice to meet your sustainability requirements.
Want to learn more?
Foam Industries is a custom protective packaging company specializing in foam – with additional wood and plastic fabrication services. Our custom foam fabrication services are ideal for any type of packaging, display, or support service needed – from design to finished product.
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Foam, plastic, and wood samples available on request.