How to Recycle Polystyrene Efficiently and Sustainably

Contrary to popular belief, polystyrene is a recyclable material. It’s a popular item in industries such as construction, where it can be repurposed in anything from insulation to transporting fragile goods. So how is it recycled? What's the first step to recycling polystyrene?

Recycling polystyrene requires a unique machine known as a polystyrene compactor. These are similar to other compactors, mainly used for dry, wet and even offensive waste types. However, polystyrene compactors are specifically designed to compact large volumes of polystyrene.

Here’s what you need to know about polystyrene recycling.

How to Recycle Polystyrene Using Machinery

Polystyrene (such as expanded polystyrene, or EPS) is fed into a bespoke polystyrene compactor in sizable chunks. This is then churned and cut by internal meshing blades, reducing the polystyrene into minuscule parts.

These parts are then compacted with great force, fusing them into one solid cubic shape, which is denser and heavier than everyday polystyrene. The cubic shape is then cut by a large blade, separating it into more manageable chunks. These can then be bound in polythene and stacked on wooden pallets, ready for sale to recyclers.

You can watch what this process looks like in our video below.

Why Recycle Polystyrene?

We recycle because we want to take care of the planet we live on. Polystyrene isn’t an exception to this. 

Unfortunately, EPS is non-biodegradable as it’s a synthetic hydrocarbon polymer made from the monomer known as styrene. This itself is mainly produced from an organic compound called ethylbenzene, which occurs naturally in and is harvested from both coal tar and petroleum (crude oil).

This means polystyrene itself is a secondary product of an energy-intensive industry, one that's responsible for a large production of greenhouse gas emissions. If businesses want to reduce their carbon footprints, ensuring they’re purchasing and utilising recycled polystyrene is a must. This is naturally leading to a demand for the product. 

In general, polystyrene isn't recycled because, in its typical form, it’s uneconomical to collect due to its low density and large volume. Compaction is a brilliant way of solving this, where the material can change from 30 kg/m3 to 330 kg/m3, where it becomes a highly valuable commodity for producers of recycled plastic pellets.

Recycling polystyrene brings in several tangible benefits, such as:

  • A reduction of waste volume, resulting in fewer scheduled collections (and a smaller bill for these).
  • Reduced labour costs through easily managed compacted material and speedy compaction times.
  • Improved on-site safety through waste elimination.
  • Potential profits from sold recycled material. 

Polystyrene compactors have a typical compaction rate of 50:1, meaning you can reduce the volume of your polystyrene by a substantial amount. So, it’s much easier to transport and more appealing to recyclers.

This makes sense for businesses with a large polystyrene waste production, as the UK doesn't currently have the infrastructure to recycle this material. You can see polystyrene recycling in action in our video below.

If you’d like to learn more about why you should recycle polystyrene, head to our blog post here

Could Your Material Recycling Be More Efficient?

Many businesses, especially those with large volumes of waste, want to recycle those materials and hopefully re-sell them for extra revenue. That’s easier said than done, requiring bespoke machinery utilised on-site to compact or bale waste. 

Whether you require waste management machinery is an important question to ask. It’s part of the wider method of ensuring efficiency and ROI within your waste management strategy. To help you develop that strategy, we’ve created a handy checklist you can use to determine whether you need waste management machinery and from which trusted sources you can obtain it. 

Click the button below to download your free copy.

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