Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS) Essay Examples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Chemical, Hazard, Environment, Polystyrene, Material, Engineering, Health, Property

Pages: 2

Words: 550

Published: 2020/12/28


Chemical engineering is a branch of engineering that deals with the study of chemicals and its industrial applications. While there have been enormously varied products that has been produced using the knowledge on chemical engineering, the profession has been notoriously tagged as among the culprits for producing hazardous compounds. Indeed, it is part of the chemical engineering profession to design compounds and substances but in the process, these chemicals compounds and substances pose threats to the environment. In view of this concern, using the compound known as expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) or Styrofoam, as it is commonly called, this paper would like to investigate the role of chemical engineers in creating things that have negative impacts to the environment and the ways on how these impacts can be mitigated.
Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) is a “super-lightweight, closed cell, rigid, plastic foam”. This material was firsts discovered by Edward Simon in Germany in 1839 when he accidentally isolated an oily substance he later called as ‘styrol’. Subsequently, several studies were conducted to determine how polystyrene can be manufactured and it was found that the compound can be produced using the process called polymerization, a chemical reaction wherein a substance is converted into a polymer by the addition of smaller particles that bonds with bigger molecules. I.G. Farben Company was the first to manufacture polystyrene in 1931. However, it was not until 1941 when polystyrene became a household name when the Dow Chemical Company named its patent as Styrofoam. To address the common misconception, Styrofoam is a brand name, which was copyrighted by Dow Chemical Company in 1944 .

The Process of Making EPS

The chemical used in manufacturing EPS is extracted from crude oil. The three major components used in manufacturing EPS are benzene, styrene and ethylene. These materials are then combined with a blowing agent to achieve its final form. The process starts with the distillation of crude oil. Benzene and styrene are derivatives of crude oil, which are then shipped to polystyrene making plants. The raw materials are then heated in pre-expander machines to temperatures of 80 to 100 degrees centigrade. Under this stage, styrene monomers combined with other additives reacts with blowing agents to form beads. After which, the material is cooled for stabilization. Accordingly, the Intermediate Maturing and Stabilization stage is the most crucial since this stage determines the material’s outcome in terms of elasticity and expansion capacity. The final stage is to introduce the beads in to moulds. The beads are again steamed for binding and for final molding. After molding, some are cut according to client specifications and are finally delivered to distribution channels.

Uses of EPS

EPS are everywhere. It is commonly used as food containers such as in cups, plates and food covers. Their buoyant properties make EPS a known material for shipping and fishing applications. EPS are also commonly used in packaging applications as they act as shock absorbers especially on fragile items. Its shock absorbent property also makes EPS a common material for sports helmets. EPS has a low thermal conductivity. Because of this property it is often used as insulators to retain heat or cold as in the case of heating insulations and air-conditioning systems. EPS also has low water absorption properties. Another desirable property of EPS is its acoustical properties. This material has been extensively used to effectively reduce sound transmission between walls. For the same reason, the use of EPS is also extensive in construction applications. EPS is also a very durable material. Just like any other plastic materials, EPS has an estimated lifespan of 100 years.

Environmental Hazards of EPS

Early manufacturing of EPS uses chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) and hydro fluorocarbons (HFC’s) as blowing agents. Evidently, CFCs and HFCs are greenhouse gasses, which greatly contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer. Also, the EPS’s durability can also become one of its undesirable property. Because of its extensive use, EPS materials such as packaging and food container materials are often indiscriminately thrown away. EPS may eventually break into small pieces through natural means but it does not totally degrade. Most often, these materials find their way into marine environment, which can pose hazards to marine biodiversity. Because of its non-biodegradable property, these materials accumulate in sewage and garbage dumps. One of the most potent environmental threats of EPS is on the toxic chemical it produces when incinerated. According to research, EPS releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide and dioxins, which according to the World Health Organization may cause health implications such as hormonal imbalance and cancers .
The indiscriminate throwing of garbage especially non-biodegradable materials such as EPS is perhaps the most hazardous scenario that can be associated with EPS. Because of this common practice, it could not be avoided that broken down EPS end up in dumps, which are often times incinerated. To avoid substantial amount of EPS from biodegradable garbage, campaign for its proper disposal should be stepped up. So far, the chemical hazards of EPS can be minimized and its environmental hazards can be mitigated through proper garbage dumping. It is also advisable to build special facilities where garbage can be incinerated in a controlled environment. Chemical engineers, for example, may design and create chemical additives that can be used to lessen the toxicity of EPS once it is subjected to incineration. On the other hand, the use of CFCs and HFCs as blowing agents in manufacturing EPS has already been discouraged and most likely abandoned. Overall, the environmental hazards of EPS are considerably minimal as compared to other hazardous chemicals and compounds.


The notion that creating materials through chemical reactions are hazardous is partly true. However, most often, the outcome is more advantageous than the perceived negative effects. As evidenced by the discovery of EPS, which is a highly utilized material in almost all human applications. As chemical engineers, creating new materials such as EPS may pose ethical issues but when its usefulness it considered, sometimes it is worth the risk. Today, a lot of technological advancement in handling of hazardous materials has been realized because of contributions in chemical engineering. The role of chemical engineers, therefore, should not be mistaken for only its negative impact. Society should also view chemical engineering as potent solution to its developmental problems.


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Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) and the Environment. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2015, from http://www.eps.co.uk/pdfs/eps_and_the_environment.pdf
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WePapers. (2020, December, 28) Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS) Essay Examples. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/expanded-polystyrene-foam-eps-essay-examples/
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Expanded Polystyrene Foam (EPS) Essay Examples. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/expanded-polystyrene-foam-eps-essay-examples/. Published Dec 28, 2020. Accessed March 21, 2023.

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