close-up of polystyrene texture.
No. 1 for Polystyrene Recycling

Polystyrene Recycling

When it comes to getting rid of all sorts of packaging materials from your business, you might wonder what to do with polystyrene. Most people know paper, cardboard, and glass are recyclable, but recycling polystyrene regularly causes confusion for both households and businesses.

Go outside on recycling day and you’ll see lots of recycling bins with polystyrene items in them. However, chances are you’ll notice just as many general waste bins with black bags of rubbish heading to landfill that also contain polystyrene. So, who is correct?

Is polystyrene recyclable? Should you dispose of polystyrene with general waste? Or can businesses recycle polystyrene it you find the right service? Find the answers to these commonly asked questions and more in our guide to polystyrene recycling.

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What is 

Polystyrene is a synthetic chemical compound made from the monomer styrene. It’s usually transparent, although it can have colour added to it, and it can be either solid or foam in form. It’s a type of plastic but more importantly for people and businesses, it’s used to make a wide range of products – most commonly food containers and packaging materials.

Polystyrene can also be combined with colourants, additives, and other plastics to create appliances, toys, electronics, and other products. There are two main types of foam polystyrene you’ll likely come across – expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS).

Learn about high impact polystyrene (HIPS) recycling

Are polystyrene and 
Styrofoam the same thing?

Styrofoam is simply a commercial brand of polystyrene. It only comes in the foam form and is usually coloured light blue. Therefore, if you have foam polystyrene that’s light blue, it’s likely Styrofoam.

Another way to tell the difference is to consider its uses. Polystyrene is usually used as packaging or disposable food and drink containers, whereas Styrofoam is often used in building and construction.

Styrofoam is a commercial brand of polystyrene

Can polystyrene 
be recycled?

Yes, you can recycle polystyrene. Approximately 100 tonnes of expanded polystyrene (EPS) are recycled every month in the UK. However, polystyrene recycling depends on various factors including the type, its use and condition, and how you get rid of it. The recycling process for polystyrene is complex, which means not all polystyrene is recyclable.

Polystyrene foam recycling for both EPS and XPS types is possible – although for households, not every council accepts EPS for recycling. It depends on where you live. While one person might find they can recycle expanded polystyrene in their household recycling bin, someone living in the adjacent council area may find they cannot.

For businesses in the UK, you can arrange collection of waste polystyrene by a licensed carrier to transport to an appropriate recycling facility. Here polystyrene is sorted, cleaned, and recycled if possible. This is the easiest way to recycle polystyrene your company produces. Speak to one of our team if you’re unsure about what to do with your polystyrene waste.

Is polystyrene 
recyclable in the UK?

Certain types of polystyrene are recyclable in the UK. You need to determine whether the polystyrene waste you have is classic polystyrene or expanded polystyrene (EPS).

As polystyrene is a plastic formed from styrene (a liquid hydrocarbon), it’s not recyclable. However, EPS can and should be recycled. It’s 98% air and only 2% plastic, which makes it possible to recycle. EPS can be reused for the manufacture of new poly boxes or compacted and turned into rigid plastic products.

two polystyrene cups with straws on a beach.

How to dispose 
of polystyrene

Disposing of polystyrene can be a tricky process for businesses, as it’s not always clear which bin it should go in. As it’s a type of plastic you can sometimes throw it in a plastic recycling bin, but it depends on the type. Other kinds of non-recyclable polystyrene may have to be disposed of with your general waste.

You can recycle polystyrene waste your business produces, which is the greenest way to dispose of it. If you have EPS waste, you can arrange delivery of free bins to your premises with Business Waste. Fill with any waste expanded polystyrene you have – just pay for collection.

We’ll collect it and transport to a polystyrene recycling facility near you for any sorting, treatment, and recycling. This ensures as much waste polystyrene as possible is reused and avoids going to landfill. If you have any other type of polystyrene waste, contact our experts who can advise and help you find the best possible solution.

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What bin does 
polystyrene go in?

At home the bin you can use to dispose of polystyrene will depend on your local council. Some will accept it in your recycling bin, while for others it may have to go in your general waste bin. Check with your local authority – as sometimes polystyrene may not be recycled alongside other recyclable plastics.

For businesses, you can use plastic waste bins to store waste polystyrene on your premises. Make sure the type of polystyrene is recyclable and arrange collection of these bins by a licensed carrier.

You can use plastic waste bins for some polystyrene

What can you do 
with old polystyrene?

Recycling polystyrene is better than sending waste to landfill but reusing or repurposing it is one step better than recycling. This reduces the need for as much energy that powers the machinery to put waste polystyrene through the recycling process.

Here are four things you can do with old polystyrene:

  1. Children’s imaginations are endless and polystyrene packaging can be transformed into cars, robots, or houses.
  2. If you’re into gardening, polystyrene cups are a great size for planting seedlings. Just make a few holes at the bottom for drainage. You can also use polystyrene foam to replace pebbles or gravel, helping help improve soil drainage in plant pots.
  3. Use polystyrene food trays as either an artist’s palette or a canvas to paint on. The slightly shiny surface means paints wash off easily and the tray can be reused.
  4. Packing peanuts can be used to stuff toys, beanbag chairs, or pillows.

Polystyrene packaging 

Why is polystyrene 
good for packaging?

One of the main reasons polystyrene is good for packaging is because it’s very light. This means it doesn’t add more weight to the item it contains, while being very strong when it’s compressed and able to absorb the shock if the item is dropped or knocked.

Polystyrene is also inexpensive to produce compared to other packaging materials such as cork, straw, or timber. This means it’s a cost-effective choice for businesses.

What can I do with 
polystyrene packaging?

If possible, try to use old polystyrene packaging as cushioning in your own packages or when moving house. Any way to reuse and recycle old polystyrene packaging is good for the environment and prevents it going to landfill.

Avoid purchasing anything with polystyrene packaging if possible though, especially if it’s not a recyclable type of polystyrene. It makes sense to limit the goods we buy that use polystyrene in the packaging.

Polystyrene waste 

Get rid of polystyrene in a responsible way with Business Waste. Our expert team can work with your company anywhere in the UK to determine the best possible solution for your polystyrene waste disposal. Tell us the type, amount, and how often you need collection to get started.

We’ll provide free bins to fill with your waste polystyrene, so you simply pay for collection. These range in size and you can get as many or few delivered to suit the amount of polystyrene waste your business generates.

Then organise collection as a one-off or on a daily, weekly, or fortnightly basis depending on how much waste you produce. For example, takeaways with a lot of polystyrene waste may want more regular collections.

Call 0800 211 8390 or contact us online to arrange polystyrene waste collection. Our team can give you a free quote, advise on whether the polystyrene you have is recyclable, and answer any other questions you may have.

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Polystyrene disposal

  • How do you get rid of polystyrene?

    How to get rid of polystyrene depends on whether you need to dispose of it at home or from your workplace. Any business must arrange commercial waste collection to dispose of polystyrene safely, legally, and responsibly. Store polystyrene waste separate from other plastic and other rubbish then organise removal by licensed waste carriers who will recycle or dispose of it properly.

    How to get rid of polystyrene from your home depends on your local council or authority. Some accept waste polystyrene in domestic recycling bins, while others don’t recycle it, so you must get rid of polystyrene in your general waste bin. If this is the case in your area, check your nearest household waste recycling centre (HWRC) as they may take polystyrene and recycle it.

  • Is polystyrene biodegradable?

    Technically, polystyrene is biodegradable, but it takes a very long time to break down. For example, if it’s heated enough in the sun, polystyrene will begin to biodegrade. However, most polystyrene ends up piled up in landfill where it’s not exposed to sunlight, and so it can take an extremely long time to break down. So polystyrene is generally not considered biodegradable.

  • How long does it take for polystyrene to decompose?

    When polystyrene is sent to landfill, it can take up to 500 years for a single piece of it to decompose. Some estimates are even longer and claim that polystyrene and Styrofoam may take a minimum of 500 years to break down when left in landfill. Therefore, it’s best to recycle polystyrene wherever possible.

  • What are the disadvantages of polystyrene?

    Polystyrene tends to be a disposable product, which can result in millions of tonnes of polystyrene heading to landfill each year. As polystyrene isn’t really biodegradable, this has a severe impact on our environment. The chemicals used in its creation can start to leach out over time, contaminating nearby water supplies, as well as the surrounding air and ground.

  • Is polystyrene toxic to humans?

    When used as packaging and to contain food and drink, polystyrene is not toxic to humans. However, research has suggested that when polystyrene is heated up, it can cause it to break down and leach harmful chemicals. This is why it is not recommended to reheat food in polystyrene containers.

  • Can Styrofoam be recycled?

    Styrofoam is an extruded polystyrene (EXS), which are less common and harder to get rid of than EPS types. However, Styrofoam is recyclable but there are fewer recycling facilities that will accept it. Therefore, it’s normally easier to try and reuse any Styrofoam your business has leftover.

  • How is polystyrene recycled?

    There are three main methods used to recycle polystyrene:

    • Granulation – for recycling expanded polystyrene and lighter density types it can go through a granulator. Polystyrene is broken down into small beads, then mixed into unused polystyrene granules. This retains the same strength, insulation, and other qualities of new polystyrene.
    • Compacting – dense polystyrene can go through a compactor that presses it together to form a heavy, thick bale of polystyrene. These bales are shredded to turn into general purpose polystyrene pallets.
    • Densifying – expanded polystyrene may go through a foam densifier where it’s shredded, exposed to heat, and pressure. It’s cooled and air extracted to create a block of pure polystyrene that might also be shredded to form new general purpose polystyrene pallets.
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