What do foam floor mats, foam craft sheets, padded sports equipment, cling wrap, and hot glue sticks all have in common?
They are made from a material known as EVA.
If you’ve used any of these products, you’ve likely just thrown them away when you no longer had use for them.
But was that the right decision? Could you have been recycling these products all along?
Well, yes and no. Whether or not EVA is recyclable just depends on the type of EVA that you have.
And even if it is recyclable, it is still very hard to do so, so you shouldn’t beat yourself up over throwing these items away.
In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about EVA and it’s recyclability or lack thereof.
1. What Exactly is EVA?
EVA stands for ethylene-vinyl acetate, and it is a copolymer that is created by combining ethylene and vinyl acetate.
It is modified to be a step-up from polyethylene, which gives the material different uses than polyethylene.
There are three different forms of EVA, and the material can be a film or have a foam or rubber-like texture, depending on the amount of vinyl acetate that makes it up.
EVA made with 10 to 40% vinyl acetate is the most widely used, but that percentage can be lower or higher.
The rest of the material is made of ethylene. Ultimately, it is the percentage of vinyl acetate that determines what the material is used for.
EVA with a low proportion of vinyl acetate (4% or lower) is a thermoplastic material.
It is commonly called vinyl acetate modified polyethylene and is usually used to make adhesives and is actually what gives cling wrap its “cling”.
EVA that has a medium proportion of vinyl acetate (4-30%) is often referred to as thermoplastic ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymer.
This form of EVA has a foam-like texture and is used for foam sheets and stickers as well as padding or sports equipment, including in:
- Bicycle seats
- Boxing gloves
- Fishing rod handles
- Hockey pads
- Ski and waterski boots
Finally, EVA with a high proportion of vinyl acetate (40% or higher) is commonly known as EVA rubber. As the name implies, it has a rubber-like texture and flexibility.
It is primarily used to make the soles of shoes as an alternative to traditional rubber.
EVA as a whole is commonly referred to as foam rubber, even though there are different versions of the material.
You may also see EVA foam rubber used to make children’s playmats, specifically the ones that are put together like puzzles.
There are plenty of industrial uses for EVA as well. But the uses mentioned above are the most common that everyday consumers would be familiar with.
2. Is EVA a Type of Plastic?
Ethylene and vinyl acetate are both monomers that are used to make plastic.
Since EVA is a combination of these two, it is considered to be a type of plastic, even though some versions of EVA don’t look like what we picture when we think of traditional plastic materials.
3. Is EVA Recyclable?
EVA is a modified and more complex version of plastic, so it is considered to be a number 7 plastic.
Number 7 plastics are usually more difficult to recycle or require a specialized recycling process.
This means that it may not be accepted in all areas or be able to be recycled at a normal recycling facility.
4. Are All EVA Products Recyclable?
The recyclability of EVA depends on the exact version of it as well as the product that it is used for.
For example, EVA that is used to make cling wrap and hot glue can’t be recycled.
It’s hard to recycle EVA that is attached to other materials as well, as in sports equipment, for example.
This is because they are made of other chemicals and materials that either can’t be recycled at all or would have to be separated during recycling so that they don’t contaminate the recycling stream.
5. Is EVA Foam Recyclable?
EVA foam that is standalone from other products is more capable of being recycled than other forms of EVA.
However, global recycling rates for EVA foam are still very low and there aren’t many facilities that are capable of recycling it.
Even with the companies that can recycle EVA, many of them aren’t able to produce EVA that is stable and has the same qualities as the original EVA.
It’s still a fairly new process that needs more research and better technology in order to produce high-quality recycled EVA.
Usually, the recycling of EVA is usually reserved for industries and manufacturers of EVA foam that have more foam available for recycling.
6. How Is EVA Recycled?
When EVA is recycled, it is most likely done through mechanical recycling.
This is a process by which recyclable materials are processed with little to no change in their chemical makeup.
A lot of thermoplastics are recycled through mechanical recycling, and in the case of EVA foam, it is usually crushed to form thinner sheets.
This doesn’t necessarily reduce the quality of the EVA, but it does limit what the recycled EVA can be used for.
7. Where Does EVA Get Recycled?
We previously mentioned that the global recycling of EVA is still very low, so there aren’t many places that accept it for recycling.
There are some companies and recycling facilities that are researching and experimenting with recycling EVA and other more complex plastics, but they aren’t easily accessible for everyone.
You’ll likely find very few (if any) facilities that are capable of recycling EVA in your country, so it’s hard to say exactly where it gets recycled.
8. How Often Can EVA Be Recycled?
Since the process of recycling is fairly new and still uncommon, it is unclear how many times it can be recycled.
But since EVA is usually recycled through mechanical means, it is likely that it can’t be recycled more than a few times.
This is especially true since the products that can be made from recycled EVA are limited in the first place.
It’s also important to note that most plastics can only be recycled a certain number of times anyway before they start to lose their quality.
9. What Products Can Be Made From Recycled EVA?
Since EVA foam is usually crushed through mechanical processes, most of the products that can be made from it are foam sheets, mats, and packaging materials.
The actual products that can be made just depends on the size and quantity of EVA products.
Most of the products that are made are flat and used for padding purposes, such as in the packaging of tools and other heavy-duty products.
10. How Do You Dispose of EVA?
Since most EVA used by consumers can’t be recycled, the only way to dispose of it is by throwing it away.
It’s possible that you could recycle it if you have a facility that accepts it in your area, but these facilities are still few and far between.
11. Does EVA End up in Landfills?
A large majority of EVA products do end up in landfills.
This is due in part to a lack of knowledge regarding other disposal methods as well as a lack of technology and facilities to recycle it most effectively.
Just to provide a point of comparison, over 27 million tons of plastic went to landfills in 2018.
It’s hard to say how much of that plastic is EVA, but you also have to consider how many products are made from it.
Any cling wrap that goes to a landfill is EVA plastic, as well as a lot of tennis shoes that have soles made from EVA.
Whether the EVA is a standalone product or used in other products, you can imagine that quite a lot of it ends up in landfills since it is hard to recycle.
12. Is EVA Biodegradable?
Another problem with so much EVA going to landfills is that it doesn’t biodegrade easily or quickly.
As a result, it is considered to not be biodegradable.
However, there is a new additive that can be added to EVA during the original manufacturing of it that makes it more biodegradable.
It works by increasing biodegradation caused by microbes by opening up space in the material when exposed to enzymes that are commonly found in landfills.
These microbes attract other microbes that then use the EVA as a food source.
It’s hard to say how much EVA plastic is produced with this additive. But any plastic product that is biodegradable is usually labeled as such.
13. Is EVA Bad for the Environment?
EVA is not the worst plastic material out there as far as eco-friendliness is concerned, but it isn’t the best either.
Like other plastics, EVA is derived from crude oil so its production is not sustainable.
Crude oil is a non-renewable resource that can cause pollution during the collection and refining of it.
Manufacturing EVA can also cause pollution, and since it still isn’t widely recycled, there aren’t many eco-friendly ways to dispose of it either.
14. Is EVA More Eco-Friendly Than PVC?
EVA is said to be better than PVC because it contains fewer harmful chemicals than PVC.
It’s not necessarily better for the environment, but it is safer for humans to use.
PVC contains an industrial chemical known as BPA. In food and beverage containers made from PVC, BPA has been found to seep into the actual food and beverage product.
BPA is thought to be toxic in high amounts and can cause negative health effects, particularly for babies and small children.
You’ll find that a lot of baby products, such as bottle and pacifier nipples and teethers, as well as playmats, are made from EVA because it is non-toxic.
3 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to EVA
When it comes to eco-friendly alternatives to EVA, most of the time it will be EVA foam.
If you can find products made from recycled EVA, they are a more eco-friendly choice than products made from virgin EVA.
But, if you are involved in the manufacturing of EVA foam products or are just looking for products made of more eco-friendly alternatives, here are two products to keep an eye on.
1. Environmentally Friendly Foam
Environmentally Friendly Foam, or EFF, is made of up to 30% plant-based materials, including bamboo, straw, and recycled agricultural waste.
It conforms to the USDA BioPreferred Products in the foam category.
SweetFoam is an eco-friendly alternative to EVA foam that is made from sugarcane.
It’s primary use is to make soles for shoes that are more sustainable than traditional EVA-based soles.
3. I’m Green EVA
I’m Green EVA is another version of EVA made from sugarcane.
It can be used for footwear, adhesives, films, foams, and toys as a replacement for traditional EVA.
You may have used products made from EVA unknowingly.
And if you’ve thrown those products away, you really can’t fault yourself as it still isn’t commonly recycled – although some foam versions are.
And even though there are some facilities that will recycle EVA, you likely won’t find one close to you.
If you want to be more eco-friendly when it comes to EVA products, the best thing you can do is limit your use of it or switch to a more sustainable, plant-based alternative.