In the dynamic realm of food packaging, plastics—often unjustly maligned for their environmental impact—hold numerous sustainable advantages. In an era dominated by bans and reduction strategies, it's easy to overlook the revolutionary role plastics have played in delivering lightweight, versatile and durable packaging.

Plastics play a fundamental role in modern life. They have transformed many of the applications in which they are used—for the better, including packaging. The design of plastic materials and recycling technologies have continued to advance, making plastics, such as polystyrene (PS), far more eco-friendly than many people realize.

Polystyrene is lightweight by nature, thereby reducing climate impact by minimizing fuel use and emissions during transportation. Additionally, polystyrene’s material strength often allows it to be used as a single layer in applications, which means less material is used overall. Polystyrene foam, for example, provides unequaled insulative properties and eliminates the need for additional material to maintain or protect against high or low temperatures (i.e. holding a hot cup of coffee, or transporting or storing fresh foods or vaccines that require low temperatures) and it’s around 98% air. Best of all, when it has fulfilled its intended use, it is recyclable.

Polystyrene packaging keeps foods fresh and hygienically stored, helping to prevent contamination and illness. Its unique design capabilities and insulative properties extend the shelf life of food, keeping it fresher for longer while preventing food waste. Food waste often ends up in landfills which are a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas contributor that contributes to climate change.

Polystyrene is a sustainable and valuable material. It is uniquely one of the most easily sortable plastics and can be recycled using both mechanical and advanced recycling technologies. Its simple molecular properties hone unique signaling capabilities that allow for easy and extremely precise sorting. These inherently sustainable properties enable it to play an important role in designing sustainable products for recycling and lessening environmental impact.

Polystyrene opens the door for a circular plastics economy where materials are recycled for reuse, again and again. Polystyrene is recyclable, essential, safe and a leading climate solution. Moreover, many companies are actively looking for sustainable materials to help them achieve their sustainability goals by using environmentally conscious material solutions to lower their product carbon footprint. The plastics industry is responding with innovative and sustainable options. For example, INEOS Styrolution offers its ECO line of styrenic materials for making sustainable options that can be produced using a full spectrum of recycled and bio-attributed products, comprised of both post-consumer recycled (PCR) and renewal feedstock high-performance styrenics.

While some products may have the ability to be made using various types of plastics, plastics themselves are highly engineered materials, and some applications are simply unable to switch to another type of plastic. Often, the original material is used in the design because it performs the function the best.

For more than five decades, polystyrene has been deemed safe to use in food contact applications by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It stands as a testament to safe, responsible plastic usage

It’s undeniable that plastics are uniquely suited for food packaging. In a circular plastics economy, we will all be best served by giving plastics a seat at the table as we move into the future of sustainable packaging.