Is Polystyrene Recyclable? And 7 More Questions You Might Be Asking

Yes. Polystyrene is 100% recyclable. But not many places actually offer the opportunity to recycle it. Because it varies in density (its composition can be up to 98% air), it’s not economical for recyclers to collect as loose material, meaning that anyone who does want to recycle it needs to do it themselves.

Let’s explore all the burning questions you may have when it comes to recycling polystyrene.

  1. What is Polystyrene made of?
  2. Where Can You Recycle Polystyrene?
  3. Are All Types of Polystyrene Recyclable?
  4. What Impact is Polystyrene Usage Having on the Environment?
  5. Are There Any Environmentally-Friendly Alternatives to Polystyrene?
  6. What’s the Best Way to Dispose of Polystyrene?
  7. How is Polystyrene Recycled?

1. What is Polystyrene made of?

Polystyrene is a synthetic hydrocarbon made from a monomer called styrene. There are three types: 

  • Solid polystyrene (PS). 
  • Expanded polystyrene (EPS) - which is the foam-type material.
  • Extruded polystyrene (XPS) which is another type of foam but has a denser structure. This type is also better at insulating.

Because of its light and robust construction, it’s the perfect material to use for protective packaging. Anyone who has bought an electrical appliance will usually be greeted by a layer of polystyrene when they open the box. 

It’s also widely used within the food industry as it helps to keep food fresh for longer. It’s commonly for white goods, keeping products well protected. 

It's also commonly used for fish processing, fish is stored in the boxes as it keeps its fresh whilst transporting. 

What you may not know is that it’s also easily sterilised, meaning it makes the perfect substance for quick medical applications. Things like test tubes, Petri dishes and medical equipment can all be transported within the material.

2. Where Can You Recycle Polystyrene?

As we’ve said, recycling polystyrene is not universally practised. Most local councils don’t offer it as a service and will urge you to simply dispose of it in your bins ready for collection.

However, the actual best way of disposing polystyrene is to take matters into your own hands, with a polystyrene compactor. In compacting polystyrene, you can also benefit from rebates, which start from £300 per tonne.

3. Are All Types of Polystyrene Recyclable?

The three types of polystyrene: PS, EPS and XPS, can all be recycled. The only issue that businesses face at the moment is finding a place that offers this service, as it’s a very rare form of recycling.

4. What Impact is Polystyrene Usage Having on the Environment?

While the impact of manufacturing polystyrene is fairly low, it still poses the same risk of environmental pollution that plastics do. Polystyrene takes hundreds of years to biodegrade and because of its brittle nature, can easily be reduced into microplastics.

On top of that, because it's light, it’s easily picked up by wind currents, meaning small pieces can be transported over long distances. Animals also cannot distinguish it as a non-organic material and could mistake it for food. This means it causes a lot of problems for bird and marine life.

Because of these issues, many cities and countries around the world have banned general polystyrene use. For example, the city of Vancouver’s ‘Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy’, which aims at being zero waste by 2040, has prohibited the use of the material in the food industry.

5. Are There Any Environmentally-Friendly Alternatives to Polystyrene?

There are eco-friendly alternatives on the market. These can be used very simply if you’re not producing a large enough amount of polystyrene to recycle. However, if you are creating a large volume, it’s worth thinking about waste management machinery over a change in packaging.

If you’re a small company with minimal volume,  it’s simple to replace packaging  with recycled FSC-certified paper, which is biodegradable. This isn’t the only option, however:

Amazingly, some companies have even begun using a polystyrene-like compound made from mushrooms to lower their plastic production. 

This doesn’t mean that polystyrene is outdated. It’s a very cost-effective material, but needs a well-developed waste management policy to dispose of it.

6. What’s the Best Way to Dispose of Polystyrene?

In most cases, local waste services offered by councils won’t recycle polystyrene, which means if you can’t do it yourself, you’ll have to send it to landfill.

However, the actual best way of disposing polystyrene is to take matters into your own hands, with a polystyrene compactor. In compacting polystyrene, you can also benefit from rebates, which start from £300 per tonne.

7. How is Polystyrene Recycled?

The best way to recycle polystyrene is when organisations invest in polystyrene compactors. Waste polystyrene is loaded into the compactor, which then uses a large amount of force to ‘compact’ the waste into blocks. This means that the polystyrene is being condensed at a 50:1 ratio.

Now, blockss can be created in many different sizes, dependent on the model and are easy to transport. These blocks are a very valuable commodity for the producers of plastic pellets. At this point, they can be typically used to create plastic insulation sheets or even everyday products such as clothes hangers, flower pots or picture frames.

Around 100 tonnes of polystyrene are recycled every month in the UK. If you’re looking for a way you can join this growing trend by recycling polystyrene and want to update your waste management procedures, explore our useful download.

 

Find Out More About Polystyrene and Waste Management

Our eBook, ‘Waste Management: How to Cut Costs and Retain Quality’ is full of information surrounding the true costs of waste management and disposal for businesses in the UK. It gives you actionable advice and tips on how you can reduce your waste, save money and be a little more eco-friendly.

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