Benefits of using expandable plastics for protective packaging

The choice of protective packaging can make a crucial difference for companies looking to optimize their costs and achieve a more sustainable supply chain. Despite their bad reputation, some expandable plastics are actually sustainable options while providing great performance in terms of protection and supply chain benefits. We analyze the benefits of expandable polystyrene and expandable polypropylene and how companies can make sure they choose the right type of expandable plastics.

What are expandable plastics?


Expandable plastics are a type of plastic resin composed of 98% air. EPS beads contain an expansion agent called pentane. When this agent is heated by steam it increases its volume generating air cells inside.

For instance, some expandable polystyrene and expandable polypropylene solutions are made of up to 98% air and 2% matter. 

Expandable plastics are given multiple uses (from protective packaging to industrial parts and consumer goods) because of their many benefits: a low cost, easy manufacturing processes, and great protective properties are among the main advantages of these materials, which we look into more carefully further down this article. 


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Types of expandable plastics 

  • Polyurethane (PUR): mainly used as a cushioning and insulation material in the packaging sector, it’s a lightweight and durable product. 
  • Expanded polystyrene (EPS): some common packaging solutions made of EPS include those for the food sector as well as protective packaging for industrial parts. 
  • Expanded Polypropylene (EPP): presenting similar characteristics as EPS, EPP includes the additional benefit of being included in reusable packaging solutions, due to its high durability.

Which expandable plastics are commonly used in protective packaging 

Both EPP and EPS present outstanding advantages when incorporated into protective packaging solutions. Made of 98% air and only 2% plastic matter, their benefits include:

  • Outstanding energy absorption
  • Great shock resistance
  • Exceptional thermal insulation capabilities
  • Water and chemical resistance
  • High strength to weight ratio 
  • 100% recyclable and a low carbon footprint during their production process
  • Lightweights Tensile strength
  • Flexible and versatile, it can be incorporated to generate protective packaging solutions that are easy to stack and handle 

Benefits of using expandable plastics in packaging

1. Improve your logistic processes 

Packaging solutions made of expandable plastics such as EPS and EPP represent the right choice for companies looking to enhance their logistic processes. There are multiple reasons for this:

  • Their protective capabilities minimize damage to transported goods and the consequent costly returns from end clients. This includes protection from transport risks (shocks, vibrations…) as well as storage (for instance, providing thermal insulation).
  • They help optimize transport space and weight, reducing extra spending on transport and storage. 
  • The possibility to easily generate customized, ergonomic solutions means this type of packaging is also easy to manipulate (both manually or automatically), which in turn eliminates damaged goods and facilitates manipulation during the distribution cycle. Transportation mode shifting is sped up 
  • Their lightweightness guarantees energy consumption is optimized, thus also reducing costs related to transportation fuel.

2. Reduce production costs 

Expandable plastics can be made by joining different pieces together, which saves production needs and consequently translates into minimized costs. 

3. Durable solutions

Both expandable polystyrene and expandable polypropylene represent long-lasting, resistant, and solid materials, which means companies can rest assured the best protection is provided for their packaged goods. 

This is especially true for EPP, which can be incorporated into reusable packaging solutions.

Take care of the environment thanks to recyclable expandable plastics

Despite the recent bad reputation surrounding plastics, some expandable plastics such as expandable polystyrene and expandable polypropylene provide a series of sustainable benefits when incorporated into protective packaging. 

In fact, when analyzing these materials from a whole life-cycle perspective, the following sustainability advantages stand out:

  • They don’t contain pollutants and dangerous chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC).
  • When the right systems are put in action, both EPS and EPP are homogenous plastic materials and, as such, 100% recyclable. For instance, at Knauf Appliances we’ve set up our own collection and recycling schemes via our Knauf Circular program. This system guarantees the recycling of your EPS waste and its recovery into new products.


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At the same time, at Knauf Appliances we’ve reinforced our commitment towards helping brands fulfill their sustainability goals. This means we incorporate eco-design into our packaging design projects, optimizing our processes so that they are the most sustainable.

Additionally, we are part of an energy recovery project, where we use combustible packaging waste as a means of generating energy. This way, we give a new life to plastic materials after their packaging purposes are fulfilled, and turn them into new energy, all following current European legislation around packaging waste (Law 92-646 of 13/07/92).

All in all, we work to guarantee companies can have access to protective packaging solutions that are both efficient and sustainable, significantly enhancing their logistics and branding. 

Want to learn more about expandable plastics and their role to generate optimized packaging solutions? Download our free Technical manual about expanded foam in the industry and discover how your business can incorporate expanded foam and start enjoying its benefits

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