Expandable polystyrene is derived from petrochemicals. It is a rigid cellular plastic, which is mixed with an expanding or a blowing agent for expansion. It is extensively used for packaging, construction, and insulation applications. Easy forming and molding properties make these materials suitable for packaging for consumer electronic or industrial goods. Vibration damping, thermal insulation, and impact resistance properties make these suitable for use in construction applications as well.
Surging construction activity owing to the rising focus on infrastructure development is promoting the demand for novel construction materials, and this is where expanded polystyrene (EPS) could shine bright. The excellent insulation properties of EPS are making it a mainstay in the construction industry and opening new avenues of growth for expanded polystyrene suppliers.
Despite the debate and scepticism around expandable polystyrene, it is considered to be a recyclable material with considerably less impact on the environment than we believe. The material is non-biodegradable but also does not react with air or water to create larger contamination issues like other products; however, its disposal could be an issue that is yet to be solved.
Recycling expandable polystyrene is a major prospect that many manufacturers and suppliers are focusing on as they jump on the sustainability bandwagon that has been expanding around the world.
On the flip side, the growing availability and launch of alternatives to EPS are expected to create some sort of unrest among expanded polystyrene providers around the world over the coming years.
Packaging is the largest application segment of the expandable polystyrene market.Developments in supply chains, and retail and sales channels have increased the importance of packaging significantly. Rising safety concerns about goods handling and transportation across distances has increased the demand forthese materials. High or food-grade polystyrene is increasingly being used for packaging of food such as ice creams, frozen meat and vegetables.
Other additional properties of expandable polystyrene such as compressive strength, shock absorption, resistance to humidity, chemical resistance, reasonable resistance to rupture, lightweight, and low water absorption have led to innovations in its applications and end use such as household furniture, sports helmets, load bearing insulated panels, frame support structures, sports car seats and toys.
EPS is recyclable,which makes it suitable for use in high volumes across the applications mentioned above. Increasing demand from end-use segments and innovations in packaging are expected to boost consumption of this material. The supply of this material is fragmented and the market is dominated by a number of small regional players and a few global players. The market for expandable polystyrene is expected to grow between 8% and 10% in the next five years. Major players in the market are BASF, Nova Chemicals, Sulzer, Knauf Industries andInsulfoam LLC.