The use and recycling of polystyrene in the food industry has increased over the past few years through the various awareness initiatives created by industry organisation the Polystyrene Packaging Council (PSPC) of South Africa.
“Polystyrene has become the preferred packaging material in the food industry. It has become a cost-effective and environment-friendly alternative to other packaging materials,” says PSPC director Adri Spangenberg.
She notes that the increased use of polystyrene in the food industry can be attributed to the advantages it offers.
The safety benefits of polystyrene have been tested by the US Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the safety of food-contact packaging and has approved the use of polystyrene since 1958.
“With the high health and regulation standards that the food industry has to adhere to, tests have shown that using polystyrene prevents the spread of diseases.
“Further, polystyrene protects the con- tents and maintains a high strength and shape, even if it is being used to present foodstuffs.”
Meanwhile, polystyrene is cheaper than many other alternative packaging materials. These products can also be recycled up to ten times.
Polystyrene materials can be reprocessed and moulded into new packaging products.
Recycling polystyrene represents an emerging market, says the PSPC. A num- ber of municipalities are instituting effec- tive programmes to reclaim this valuable resource, says Spangenberg.
The PSPC is also setting up recycling programmes across South Africa.
The organisation is collabo- rating with municipalities in various areas to teach children about the advantages of using and recycling polystyrene. “This is done through school recycling competitions and the distribution of recycling bins,” she says.
Meanwhile, the PSPC says polystyrene has a low carbon footprint because it is lightweight. Polystyrene does not take a lot of energy to manu- facture, is easy to transport and less material needs to be recycled, as it mostly com- prises air.
Two types of polystyrene are used in the food industry. Expanded polystyrene is used to make cups, bowls, plates and egg cartons, as well as pack- aging for take-away foods.
The other is high-impact polystyrene, which is used for making cutlery, yoghurt and cottage cheese containers, clear salad containers and clear plastic cups.