EPS: stable, but flows are changing

In 2018 Italy consumed 120,000 tons of EPS, 1,000 more than in 2017

by Luigi Rossoni

In a general scenario in Italy that has seen a substantial stability in the consumption figures of virgin plastics in 2018, with a slight decrease trend (-1%), the 1,000-ton growth in the deliveries of sintered expanded polystyrene (EPS), from 119,000 to 120,000 tons, testifies to the resilience of this sector despite the environmental challenges. The figures, based on a research study by the Milan-based company Plastic Consult, were presented, as usual, by the Italian association of expanded polystyrene (AIPE).

Preforms up and slabs down

While the overall situation is positive and seemingly stable, there are diverging trends within the sector: the preformat segment shows better performance (from 60,000 to 64,000 tons) compared to slabs and boards (down from 54,000 to 52,000 tons) confirming the shift in demand towards more technological and performance-specific products which have been in place for some years now. The bulk EPS beads segment, which is broadly stable at 4,000-5,000 tons, remains marginal compared to the other two.

Consumption grows in the packaging segment

The same trend can be seen in EPS consumption by application. The growth of the packaging segment (from 47,000 to 51,000 tons) was in fact almost offset by a decline in insulation materials for the building industry, which in 2018 fell to 66,000 tons from the 69,000 tons recorded in 2017. The difference is precisely the 1,000 tons surplus of the year.
Despite the media attacking single-use packaging, which perhaps could penalise EPS more than other plastics, the demand continues to grow at present. According to AIPE, this is explained by the fact that EPS packagings offer technical performance that makes them a valid and virtually irreplaceable choice, especially in terms of temperature control, impact protection, safety for food contact applications.
The decline in consumption in the building industry, on the other hand, does not seem to be linked to the competition of other insulating materials, but to the current crisis that pervades the building industry in Italy, which is struggling mainly in the residential and new building segments.