Cascades gives a second life to polystyrene, which isn’t such a bad material after all!

Never before will that kind of food packaging tray have been so environmentally responsible

On April 12, Cascades and Nextlife entered into an exclusive partnership to recycle a highly underappreciated packaging material: polystyrene (PS), also known as No. 6 Plastic. This means you will soon be able to purchase steak in trays made with recycled content—that’s right: post-consumer recycled content. Never before will that kind of food packaging tray have been so environmentally responsible!

Environmentally and health friendly solution

Specifically, our partner Nextlife will transform polystyrene products recovered at the end of their useful lives (in other words, post-consumer) into recycled resin that will be shipped to our plants and used to make polystyrene foam trays, like those used to package meats, among other things. The material is Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)-approved and can come into direct contact with food.

How was this project conceived? Cascades SPG Packaging – consumer products mandated CIRAIG to conduct a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of its food packaging trays from 2008 to 2010. The surprising conclusion they came to is that the (EPS) polystyrene foam tray had the least environmental impact among the analyzed products. Contrary to popular belief, the environmental footprint of an end‑of‑life tray is only a small part of its overall impact during its entire life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials through processing, transport, use and eventual disposal. In the end, polystyrene foam isn’t the boogeyman most people think it is. A myth has finally been put to rest!

Fruitful searches

One good way to reduce the environmental footprint of materials used in manufacturing is to add recycled content to it. For example, food containers made of PET (the number 1 plastic, often used in water or soft drink bottles) have a greater impact on the environment than they would if they contained 60% recycled material—thus becoming RPET (recycled polyethylene terephthalate).

Armed with the data from these discoveries, Cascades started devising a new plan: incorporate recycled material into its PS (number 6 plastic) polystyrene foam trays. We identified NextLife as a possible recycled PS supplier, and after many discussions and meetings, a supply agreement was signed!

Production testing with this new material is going well. We plan to launch a line of trays made of expanded polystyrene with recycled content (RXPS) by the end of the year. Keep an eye out for them!

What do you think? Would you be more inclined to buy a product packaged in polystyrene if you knew it contained recycled materials?

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About the Author
Michel Iliesco

Michel specializes in marketing management and business development. He has worked with Cascades Specialty Products Group since 2007. Michel is actively involved in several pilot projects relating to plastics recovery and recycling. For him, sustainable development means achieving the right balance between people, the environment and the economy. Michel graduated from the Université de Montréal in Marketing and International Business. He also has an MBA from HEC. Michel purposely chose to join Cascades because it shares his core values: respect, autonomy and entrepreneurship. As he often says, you learn by daring and trying. Look at things from many perspectives, be curious and progress… you never know!

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