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EcoCore used as a recyclable replacement for EPS packaging at NPE 2024 show

Updated: May 6

Delegates from across the world gather at the NPE show once every three years to see the latest developments in plastics and manufacturing. This year EcoCore® cups, designed as a widely recyclable replacement for EPS, are being displayed and used at the Avient (south hall, level 2, room S210) and MCC (south hall S41004 booth) locations.


The EcoCore cups on show at NPE were created as a collaborative project by a team of experts within the packaging sector. The contributors include Avient (chemical foaming agent), Bockatech (foam-tech for injection moulding), Borealis (specially modified polypropylene #5) and MCC Verstraete (#5 IML labels).

The aim of the collaboration is to help brands and manufacturers find cost-effective, high-performance and more recyclable alternatives to EPS packaging, which is facing an increasing number of bans worldwide.


Picture showing a 430ml cup for hot and cold drinks
NPE 2024 cup — lightweight, low-cost, insulated, reusable and recyclable with an IML for easy branding

EPS bans worldwide

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) has been a popular choice for food service containers because of its low cost and thermal insulation. ​

However, many major territories, including the European Union, India and eleven US states, have banned EPS due to concerns over safety and negative environmental impacts.

The number of bans is also expected to grow. For example, in the US, the proposed 'Farewell to Foam Act' would stop the sale or distribution of covered expanded polystyrene products by food service providers, manufacturers, distributors or retailers at the beginning of 2026.


Meeting the EPS challenge

​Talking about the success of the project so far, and what the next steps will be, Chris Bocking, Bockatech Founder, says: "EPS is tough to match in terms of weight and insulation alone, but brands, converters and consumers are concerned about more than just those factors.


"They want better recyclability, safety, cost effectiveness, branding options and a great user experience as well. When you take everything into account what we've developed so far is very competitive.


"As a company we're not stopping there either, we're now looking at how we move above 70% density reduction and cut cycle times to improve thermal insulation and cost effectiveness further."


About the project

The starting point for the collaboration was to create the NPE 2024 cup that demonstrates how additives, materials, injection moulding foam-tech and labels can work together to meet the EPS replacement challenge.

The cup uses Bockatech's patented EcoCore foaming technology for injection moulding. This is combined with Avient chemical foaming agents and physical gas — creating containers with foam walls where the density of plastic is reduced by around 70%.

 

The unique way that EcoCore reduces density, with skin-foam-skin walls, means that the cup is more durable than EPS alternatives but is also lighter than some popular paper cups. The low weight combined with a short manufacturing time of circa 7 seconds significantly cut costs as well.

As the cups are durable they can be used again if needed. Life Cycle Analysis shows that  cups made with EcoCore foam technology reduce CO2 by 20–30% after two uses compared to popular paper single-use alternatives. And, significantly reduce the risk of land as well as sea litter pollution.


EcoCore food containers with coffee, pasta, noodle, porridge and soup labels
The manufacturing solution can also be used for containers for a variety of food uses

Containers made using the solution are food safe and can be washed and heated in a microwave. As the focus was on cups that are replacements for EPS single-use, the label created by MCC was lower cost and suitable for fewer reuses. More durable dishwasher proof labels could also be used if greater durability is required.

A widely recyclable Borealis Daploy (#5) optimised resin is used for the cup. As the label is also (#5) the whole container is easy to recycle at the end of its life.

The cup is over five times stronger than a plastic cup of the same weight and offers twice the thermal insulation — keeping drinks hot and fingers cool. Insulation also helps reduce condensation and water dripping from the outside when the cup is used for ice-cold drinks.


Many applications 

Although the collaboration focused on a cup to start, the manufacturing solution can be used for various other applications. These include food — such as cold drink cups requiring transparency, bowls, clamshells and noodle pots — as well as non-food, including paint pails and aerosol caps.


EcoCore containers including a large pail, bowl, hot cup, cold cup, cosmetic container, takeaway food container and aerosol cap

"It's great to see EcoCore used as sustainable replacement for EPS packaging at the NPE 2024 show," says Martin Blacher, Director at Bockatech.


"The packaging sector needs solutions to the problems we have right now and working with partners from across the industry we've shown brands, manufacturers and consumers a practical alternative to EPS."

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