Can you recycle polystyrene?

can you recycle polystyrene

This page was last updated on 1 September 2021

Can You Recycle Polystyrene In 2021?

In this article we will look at the common questions people have about recycling polystyrene. 

Topics that you will find covered on this page

You can listen to an audio recording of this page below.

 

Can you put polystyrene in the recycling bin?

Polystyrene is a plastic made from the monomer styrene, derived from petroleum. It can usually be found in food containers and egg cartons.

It is well known for being hard and inflexible. Therefore, polystyrene cannot be recycled with other plastics, so it should not be put in recycling bins,

The question then is, “so where does it go?” The answer to this question depends on the facilities available in your area – check with your local council.

Some councils recycle polystyrene loose by taking it directly to facilities that are able to recycle them correctly, some take polystyrene inside cardboard boxes, while others offer special bags or sachets for collecting it.

Either way the best thing to do is to check with your local council, as this simple action could prevent polystyrene from ending up in landfill.

Polystyrene can also be recycled into new products such as benches and insulation, but that would mean that the facilities exist to recycle it – so maybe your council does?

Why don’t councils recycle polystyrene?

The main reason why your council doesn’t recycle polystyrene is that there simply aren’t the facilities available.

Polystyrene is slow to biodegrade which makes it hard to dispose.

The few places that do exist are expensive to set up and can only process a limited amount of material, so recycling it on a large scale isn’t really viable.

This means that instead of allowing it to take up space in landfill, councils collect what they can – but this means you’ll need to put it into the correct waste bin. 

This has the added benefit of reducing littering, which could cause environmental damage when polystyrene ends up in rivers or oceans.

What to do with used polystyrene?

The best way to dispose of your polystyrene is to check with your council. As stated above, some councils offer special bags or sachets while others take it inside cardboard boxes.

If this isn’t possible, then you should find out where the nearest recycling facility is – contact details should be available on your local council’s website.

A word of caution: many places that claim to recycle polystyrene are actually just breaking it down into small pieces and then selling it on to manufacturers who use it in products such as egg cartons. 

This means that not only has very little recycling taken place, but these companies won’t be using recycled plastic at all – merely deformed new plastic – so you’ll be doing more harm

What is expanded polystyrene?

Expanded polystyrene is a lightweight, closed cell plastic foam. It can be made by adding gases such as pentane or other similar vapours under high pressure to the molten polymer (polystyrene).

The resulting product has a density of around 10-20kg/m3 and excellent insulating properties: increasing the density of the material simply makes it harder and more rigid, while also reducing its insulation ability.

It also has low flammability and an excellent resistance against chemicals, making it useful in many industrial applications such as electrical insulation and packaging materials. 

A large proportion of expanded polystyrene found on the market today is actually recycled using this method.

Can polystyrene food trays be recycled?

No. Polystyrene cannot be recycled with other plastics, so it should not be put in recycling bins. This applies to both food trays and polystyrene cups.

The best thing to do is check with your local council, as this simple action could prevent polystyrene from ending up in landfill.

Although some councils recycle polystyrene loose by taking it directly to facilities that are able to recycle them correctly, others collect what they can – but this means you’ll need to put it into the correct waste bin. 

This has the added benefit of reducing littering, which could cause environmental damage when polystyrene ends up in rivers or oceans.

Is polystyrene a type of plastic?

Yes. Polystyrene is a type of plastic polymer, made from the monomer styrene.

The most common forms are expanded polystyrene (used in packing materials but not food trays), solid polystyrene (found in kitchenware) and liquid polystyrene beads (known as Styrofoam).

Polystyrene is used in many industries including construction, manufacturing and retail due to its low cost, relatively high strength and lightweight properties.

"The main reason why your council doesn't recycle polystyrene is that there simply aren't the facilities available. Polystyrene is slow to biodegrade which makes it hard to dispose."

Is polystyrene dangerous?

All types of polystyrene are non-toxic, so exposure to small amounts isn’t likely to harm you – even if you eat it.

Just don’t eat too much of it at once! While the exact amount of polystyrene you can ingest without feeling ill isn’t known, it’s thought to be a lot.

If you want to play it safe, then try not to breathe it in or get it on your skin. As mentioned before, polystyrene is chemically inert and unlikely to cause a chemical burn – but that doesn’t mean it won’t be uncomfortable if something does happen.

expanded polystyrene

While certain forms of expanded polystyrene can release chemicals at very high temperatures – such as those found inside barbecues – this only happens once the material has been significantly damaged from being burned.

As for recycling: there are many different types of plastics, all with different melting points . In order for a plastic to be recycled properly, its melting point

Are polystyrene and styrofoam the same thing?

While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they’re actually different. In general, styrofoam is a registered trademark of The Dow Chemical Company for a form of polystyrene that has been expanded with gases such as pentane to create an insulating material.

In this case, both “polystyrene” and “styrofoam” can be used to describe the same thing – with most people using them without even realizing they’re technically incorrect. 

However, if you really must know which specific type of plastic someone is referring to, then it’s best just to ask them. They’ll probably appreciate your enthusiasm at being knowledgeable about this subject matter.

Can I put polystyrene in my recycle bin?

No – at least, not if your local council only accepts certain types of plastic for recycling. Although polystyrene can be recycled with other plastics to create new products, this process is very difficult and expensive.

For most councils it’s simply not worth the effort because of how many technical barriers are involved in making it happen. This means that any polystyrene being put into recycling bins could end up contaminating other plastics before they’re processed together at recycling centres.

It may seem like a good idea, but you’ll actually be causing more harm than good by doing so. As well as causing problems during the recycling process, it also means that this type of plastic will have to take up space in landfills instead of being reused.

What are the disadvantages of polystyrene?

One disadvantage of polystyrene is its density; it has a high weight-to-volume ratio, meaning it takes up more space than other materials – like paper for example. This can be problematic if you’re shipping large numbers of items to different locations aboard ships, where every cubic metre counts!

Another issue relates to the production process which releases harmful greenhouse gases into the environment due to the chemical makeup of styrene (a hydrocarbon). Although this type of plastic can last for decades without breaking down in landfill sites, this doesn’t mean production should continue to use unsustainable methods.

There are also health concerns related to disposable plastics such as polystyrene – particularly when they get into waterways and oceans where animals often mistake them for food.

recycling centre

What can you do with old polystyrene?

If you’ve got some old polystyrene lying around your house which you no longer need, then why not try re-purposing it? You can do all sorts of cool things like make household items (such as picture frames) or toys for the kids.

As mentioned before, polystyrene is chemically inert – so there’s little to no risk of you being exposed to harmful chemicals from polystyrene when cutting it up.

While this type of plastic isn’t biodegradable in landfills, that doesn’t mean it will never break down again once it’s been recycled! In fact, many grocery stores now have bins where you can deposit disposable plastics such as polystyrene – even if they’re dirty.

What bin does polystyrene go in the UK?

You will need to check with your local council which bin you need to use.

While it’s worth checking your local council to find out their rules for recycling, chances are that polystyrene can be recycled with other plastics into new items. 

If you have a kerbside bin collection, the bin men will sometimes check to see whether polystyrene has ended up in the wrong bin.

However, you should always check if they will recycle disposable plastic cups or cutlery – as these are often made from polystyrene! If the council don’t recycle this type of plastic, then you’ll have to make sure any old polystyrene is safely disposed of in the garbage bin.

polystyrene recycling

Can you recycle polystyrene takeaway boxes?

It’s best to check with your local council. Some councils may recycle these types of plastics – either separately or together as long as they’re clean (i.e., not covered in food). However, many councils now only accept certain types of plastic for recycling; polystyrene is usually too difficult and expensive to recycle using current methods.

The UK has one of the lowest recycling rates in Europe – at around 43%.

So it’s important for everyone to make sure they do their bit! By checking your local council website you can find out more about what you can usefully do with any disposable plastics lying around your home. In most cases, polystyrene will go into the garbage bin .

Can I put polystyrene in my black bin?

You can, but it’s probably not worth the hassle.

As mentioned above, there are plenty of ways you can make use of any old polystyrene lying around your house – whether it be re-purposing or recycling .

The process of recycling is often more expensive than creating new plastics, so if you’re cutting up disposable food polystyrene packaging then it might be best to avoid causing problems for those who do recycle this type of plastic.

While many councils now only accept certain types of disposable plastics (usually marked with a number 1-7) for polystyrene recycling – this isn’t always the case! You should check out your local council website first to find out their rules on disposing of polystyrene especially if they’ll recycle different

Article author

Katy Davies

I am a keen reader and writer and have been helping to write and produce the legal content for the site since the launch.   I studied for a law degree at Manchester University and I use that theoretical experience, as well as my practical experience as a solicitor, to help produce legal content which I hope you find helpful.

Outside of work, I love the snow and am a keen snowboarder.  Most winters you will see me trying to get away for long weekends to the slopes in Switzerland or France.

Email – katy@helpandadvice.co.uk

LinkedIn – Connect with me

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you put polystyrene in the recycling bin?

Polystyrene is a plastic made from the monomer styrene, derived from petroleum. It can usually be found in food containers and egg cartons.

It is well known for being hard and inflexible. Therefore, polystyrene cannot be recycled with other plastics, so it should not be put in recycling bins.

Why don’t councils recycle polystyrene?

The main reason why your council doesn’t recycle polystyrene is that there simply aren’t the facilities available.

Polystyrene is slow to biodegrade which makes it hard to dispose.

The few places that do exist are expensive to set up and can only process a limited amount of material, so recycling it on a large scale isn’t really viable.

What to do with used polystyrene?

The best way to dispose of your polystyrene is to check with your council. As stated above, some councils offer special bags or sachets while others take it inside cardboard boxes.

If this isn’t possible, then you should find out where the nearest recycling facility is – contact details should be available on your local council’s website.

Can polystyrene food trays be recycled?

No. Polystyrene cannot be recycled with other plastics, so it should not be put in recycling bins. This applies to both food trays and polystyrene cups.

The best thing to do is check with your local council, as this simple action could prevent polystyrene from ending up in landfill.

 

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