Can you recycle polystyrene?

Can polystyrene be recycled?

Polystyrene is an incredibly popular material that is used for a range of packaging across the board. From office equipment like monitors, to takeaways, it’s definitely something that you’ve dealt with before. However, what exactly to do with it is something people still aren’t sure about, and we hope to answer any questions you may have here.

What is polystyrene?

  • Polystyrene’s popularity comes from its price. It is one of the most cost-efficient insulating materials on the planet, which means that it's produced heavily, but it unfortunately takes a long time to break down.
  • Polystyrene can be solid or expanded, depending on purpose.
  • Polystyrene is usually used to contain things like hot drinks, eggs, yoghurt and takeaway food, or to insulate walls, or keep appliances safe while packaged.

What is the difference between expanded and solid polystyrene?

Solid polystyrene (PS) is the hard plastic that is used in disposable food. Things like coffee lids from cafes, or fruit boxes at a supermarket are regularly PS. These are more durable and harder to break.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is the softer, foam version of it. This you may see around the corners of a new computer monitor, or to package food or sauce if you order something from a takeaway. These are better insulators and act as a cushion for things that are being moved around.

Other than the solidity, these two materials are the same.

Which bin do I put it in?

The short answer is that it is recyclable, but we don’t have the ability to do it efficiently. Because of this, we’d recommend just putting it in your general waste bin.

It's very expensive to build polystyrene compacting machinery, so there aren’t enough in the UK to have all waste management providers collect it for recycling. There are some challenges to overcome first, like collecting enough to make it efficient, or finding ways to clean grease and other contaminants off it.

Some recycling companies do accept polystyrene, but whether it will ever be reused is unlikely.

Need some recycling advice?

If you’d like to speak to an expert, we’re on hand. Whether you’d like a new bin, to organise a collection, or even just some solutions on a waste-related problem your business has, you can speak to one of our consultants who'd be happy to help.

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