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‘Unrecyclable’ polystyrene claims challenged

Claims that expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging cannot be recycled have been challenged by the Recycling Association.

Chefs including Hugh Fearnley-Whittinghstall, Ed Baines, Theo Randall and Mark Hix have called on London mayor Sadiq Khan to outlaw EPS boxes used as packaging for fish, suggesting they should be replaced by reinforced cardboard boxes, as reported by media including the Evening Standard.

The chefs’ letter, published in full on trade website Big Hospitality, implies that EPS is unrecyclable and describes it as the “scourge of Soho”.

Khan’s office told the Standard he was not in a position to ban the material, but said his deputy mayor was working on “ambitious proposals” to encourage better waste management in the city.

But Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellin (pictured) has disputed the chefs’ claims, saying EPS is “100% recyclable” and a “valuable commodity”.

He said the reason waste management firms did not always collect EPS was because they could not justify picking up a material that is very light and bulky as a single stream.

It is also often contaminated by the fish that are packed in it, he said, so is less valuable than clean EPS.

Ellin said solutions to the problem of EPS not being recycled were possible but warned against a cardboard alternative.

“The cardboard sector does not like contamination, and reinforced cardboard might end up being harder to recycle than the EPS.

“London is packed full of restaurants, and it should not be impossible for these chefs to get together to make collection of this material worthwhile in such a densely populated restaurant scene. We woul be happy to help them investigate how to get this material recycled, in return for a nice meal at one of their restaurants.”

International Forest Products European trade director and association board member Amie Stringer said EPS suppliers were responsible for driving its collection and recycling.

She said: “Billingsgate fish market in London has its own successful EPS recycling scheme. There is no reason why these boxes cannot be recycled by the chefs, as long as they get the right collection scheme in place, especially if these restaurants were prepared to pay a little bit more to get it collected.”

Meanwhile, a group of 36 national and European trade associations has presented a set of recommendations for the EU circular economy package proposals, currently being discussed in Brussels.

Groups including British packaging council INCPEN, European packaging body EUROPEN, the Confederation of European Paper Industries,  and European container glass federation FEVE called for the package to:

  • Preserve the entirety of resources invested in the packaged product along the entire value chain
  • Safeguard the internal market to ensure the free movement of packaging and packaged goods
  • Ensure ‘relevance’ of the EU extended producer resposibility scheme for the packaging waste stream
  • Allow free competition so that producers can choose the packaging most appropriate for the product and distribution system
  • Set realistic and achievable packaging preparing for reuse/recycling targets


Readers' comments (1)

  • Surely compostable packaging is the best solution, to be recycled with food waste?

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