NEPCO: Natural Environmental Protection Company (Pomona, CA)
Nepco is a diverse global firm with operations in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America that sells resins, recycling machinery and finished goods. It had been making picture frames from polystyrene for many years, and an EPS manufacturer helped connect Nepco to a source for post-consumer polystyrene foam. This allowed Nepco to include recycled material in their products, and Nepco jumped at the chance to expand their recycling efforts to their framing products. Nepco believes the use of recycled material, plus their manufacturing location in the U.S., helps put them ahead of their competition in having a top-quality domestic product for sale in the U.S.
Foodservice Packaging Materials
Nepco acquires its secondary expanded polystyrene (EPS) from a variety of sources, both post-consumer and post-industrial. Examples include EPS fish boxes (used in the fishing industry) and EPS egg cartons, clamshells, cups and foam blocks from product packaging. Nepco sources the curbside EPS materials from material recovery facilities (MRFs), including the Burrtec MRF in Riverside, California. Read more about Burrtec in this case study. Burrtec’s facility produces ingots of compressed foam. Once received by Nepco, the ingots are placed into a unit that separates them, breaks the articles into smaller pieces, and melts them. The melted polystyrene is extruded and turned into pellets, ready to be sold to resin suppliers and converters, or converted in-house into pictures frames and sold to retailers and direct to the public.
Challenges and Solutions
When post-consumer material is used, attention must be paid to quality. Nepco's process is fairly forgiving, as the materials are separated and melted, and the foam is covered with a foil overlay before the final finish is applied. End market challenges of sourcing post-consumer materials and fluctuating supply could be reduced if the proper channels of sourcing are fully utilized. While most supply sources will naturally vary over time, any fluctuating shortages can be mitigated by tapping the supply from EPS collection and recycling.
Nepco is a good example of an end market for foam foodservice products. It should be noted that they are not the only picture frame manufacturer that uses recycled EPS. Nepco’s frames are an example of a product containing recycled content that may not even be evident to most consumers, depending on marketing.