The alternative to Polystyrene

There are alternatives for all material grades but true sustainable packaging is not simply changing a packaging medium, it is considering the entire value chain, cradle-to-cradle as well as your target audience and the application of the pack.  Changing a packaging medium from polystyrene to any other, one has to consider a range of factors, there may simply not be a suitable alternative!

Firstly, the functionality of each substrate differs vastly and therefore the application of the medium needs to be considered carefully.  For example, whilst one of the main benefits of corrugate is strength, therefore protecting the content, it may not have the same insulating or thermal properties that packaging of a hot meal may require.  Polystyrene meets many, if not all, of the food packaging requirements:  hygiene, freshness (superior shelf life), heat retention, absorption of fluids, lightweight, and price point.


Recyclability, together with primary and secondary market applications of recycled polystyrene, needs to be considered.  Whilst paper packaging variants are often ‘sold’ as the ‘greener’ option, it may contain polylaminate layers which means it is a multilayer pack and separation and recycling abilities are severely compromised.  Polystyrene packaging is a single material packaging option that requires no separation prior to recycling.   Alternative, ‘greener’ mediums is also often manufactured from recycled materials but does not have a recycling stream due to product weight.  Understanding each substrates’ recyclability is paramount in order to make sound decisions with regards to packaging alternatives for polystyrene.


Thirdly, resource allocation during the value chain is of importance.  For example, the impact of changing to a ‘greener’ substrate that requires significantly higher resources during the transport process is counterproductive to developing sustainable packaging.  Expanded polystyrene comprises of 96% air and is therefore one of the most resource efficient materials in the world due to lower fuel consumption and a significant reduction in vehicle CO2 emissions compared to other denser and heavier packaging materials.

Lastly, with continuous pressure on the retail sector to keep price increases to a minimum, polystyrene serves the price-point need perfectly.  Many of the larger retail stores actively engage in “price point campaigns” and serve lower LSM markets.  Since an estimated 50% of the South African population falls within the LSM 4 to 6 brackets, it enables retail to meet the price point needs of these markets, making polystyrene the preferred packaging choice.     

Considering the above, it is hard to imagine that a suitable alternative for polystyrene exists!

To enquire about our polystyrene or PET products, click here.

Food containers with full international food-grade

  • BRC Global Standard for Packaging & Packaging Materials
  • EU directive 10/2011 or FDA standards; certified for directfood applications
  • Migration limits EU directive 10/2011
  • Regulation (EC) no 2023/2008 good manufacturing practices; food materials
  • Endorsed by the Southern African Vinyls Association