Most people know paper and cardboard are recyclable. Most will also know glass can easily be recycled without any waste products being left behind. Yet one of the most common items that regularly causes confusion is polystyrene.
Go outside on recycling day and you’ll see lots of recycling bags and cartons with polystyrene items in them. Chances are you will notice just as many households with black bag rubbish for the landfill that also has polystyrene in it.
So, who is correct? Is polystyrene recyclable, and is there anything we should know about it? And can businesses recycle it if they can find the right service?
Polystyrene is a type of plastic
That’s great, you might think – lots of plastic products can be recycled. Tonnes of it are collected and recycled every day. The main thing to remember is to wash it before you put it out to be recycled.
Polystyrene can be recycled – but not all areas in the UK do it
The UK uses 275,000 tonnes of plastic every year. Around 40kg is binned by the average family each year – 40kg that could easily be recycled. Approximately 100 tonnes of expanded polystyrene (otherwise referred to as EPS) is recycled every month in this country. However, not all councils accept EPS for recycling. It depends where you live, so while one person might find they can recycle their polystyrene, someone living in the adjacent council area may find they cannot.
Furthermore, it is not the easiest item to recycle. The machinery required to do this would be costly and difficult to build. The size of much of the waste polystyrene we amass also makes it complex to collect, even though it is very lightweight.
Avoid purchasing anything with polystyrene used as packaging if possible
The good thing about polystyrene is that it can be turned into all manner of other practical items. If we can find a way to collect it and recycle it into other items just as easily as we can with glass and other plastics, polystyrene may become easily recyclable in the future.
However, until that day arrives, it makes sense to limit the goods we buy that use polystyrene in the packaging. The potential is there for recycling this item, but unless you are fortunate enough to have access to such a service, it makes more sense to avoid having any to start with.
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