For seafood processors, and anyone within the fishing industry that needs to transport or distribute fish and seafood, polystyrene boxes has always been the go to choice. Here in the UK alone, it is estimated that there are in excess of 22 million polystyrene boxes for fish and seafood used annually across the UK seafood sector.

The main function of any type of packaging used to transport fish and seafood is to ensure that it stays fresh and it doesn’t get damaged in transit. Polystyrene has, historically, been the obvious choice for a number of reasons – it’s easily accessible, easy to use, has excellent insulation properties and it’s inexpensive.

Packaging is an area that has changed dramatically over the last few years, with sustainability emerging as one of the key factors when making packaging decisions. Single use plastics are a hot topic, and now more than ever there needs to be a discussion around the use of polystyrene boxes for fish and seafood, and the effects on the environment.

So, why is polystyrene such a problem? Marine plastic pollution remains a huge global issue, and polystyrene is a significant contributor to it. The main issue with polystyrene – above other plastics – is that it degrades incredibly easily when in water. The small polystyrene beads easily separate once in water, making it a material that is a significant micro-plastic contributor. Furthermore, polystyrene is not biodegradable, and can therefore remain in water for many, many years. With this comes a high risk of it being eaten by marine species – therefore making it a significant contributor to marine pollution with a significant environmental impact.

Aside from the marine environment, a high percentage of polystyrene fish boxes also end up in landfill. The estimated figure across Europe is over 50% – a huge number when taking into account the millions that are used annually across the continent. Specialist recycling for polystyrene is possible. However, being made up of 98% air, and being a low-cost material, the feasibility for recycling the material isn’t great. This considered, you can see why recycling volumes aren’t where they need to be.

The fishing industry hasn’t moved as quickly as other industries when it comes to sustainable packaging. For an industry that relies on the marine environment, ultimately this needs to change.

With the sheer volume of polystyrene boxes for transporting fish and seafood used both here in the UK and globally, any alternative that could replace polystyrene needs to not only fit the criteria that makes polystyrene so attractive to begin with, but needs to be available en masse.

With single use polystyrene products being banned across numerous countries, it’s only a matter of time before polystyrene is banned completely across other applications. With fish consumption growing, and sustainability becoming an ever-more critical factor when considering packaging, now more than ever, the industry needs to seriously consider making the switch to a polystyrene alternative.

One thing that is clear, is that the industry is not short of alternatives to polystyrene, and the widespread availability of more sustainable fish boxes does exist. As manufacturers of Coolseal seafood boxes – made from fluted polypropylene, we manufactured around 5 million boxes in 2022 alone. There are other options too in the form of waxed cardboard fish boxes, which are also used already in Europe.

As a manufacturer of the industry leading alternative to polystyrene fish boxes, we have proven that alternatives to polystyrene now match all the functionality that polystyrene has, but have greater benefits too. Insulation, accessibility, ease of use and even cost of Coolseal, are all comparable with polystyrene and has greater environmental credentials too.

The environmental impact from polystyrene is huge. Alternatives to polystyrene boxes for fish and seafood exist, and are easily accessible. We have seen a shift within the fishing industry within the last year alone, which we think will only continue.

For more information about Coolseal and its benefits, you can read more here. Alternatively, if you would like to make the move away from polystyrene fish boxes, speak to us today.