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Is Polystyrene Recyclable – Eco Guide

Are you wondering whether polystyrene is recyclable?

If so, you’re not alone. Polystyrene is a common material used in packaging, disposable utensils, and even insulation.

But when it comes to recycling, there seems to be some confusion.

In this article, we’ll explore the question of whether polystyrene is recyclable, the challenges of recycling it, and the benefits of doing so.

Polystyrene is a type of plastic that is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.

It is lightweight, durable, and versatile, which makes it a popular choice for many different applications.

However, polystyrene is not biodegradable, which means that it can take hundreds of years to break down in the environment.

This is where recycling comes in.

Recycling Polystyrene

So, is polystyrene recyclable?

The short answer is yes, but it’s not so straightforward as you might think.

There are different types of polystyrene, and not all of them can be recycled in the same way.

According to the EPA, only about 25% of polystyrene is recycled in the United States.

This is partly because expanded polystyrene foam, for example, is often used in packaging materials and is notoriously difficult to recycle.

This is because it is lightweight and bulky, which makes it hard to transport and process.

However, some recycling centers do accept expanded polystyrene foam, and there are specialized machines that can compress it into dense bricks for recycling.

Another challenge with polystyrene recycling is contamination.

Polystyrene products are often used for food and drink packaging, which means they can become contaminated with oils, food residue, or other substances.

This can make it difficult to recycle them effectively.

To address this issue, some recycling centers require polystyrene to be cleaned and sorted before it can be recycled.

polystyrene fibers close up

Methods of Recycling Polystyrene

Despite these challenges, there are several methods of recycling polystyrene.

Mechanical recycling involves shredding the material into small pieces and then melting it down to create new products.

According to the American Chemistry Council, mechanical recycling can reduce energy consumption by up to 90% compared to producing new polystyrene.

Chemical recycling, on the other hand, breaks down polystyrene into its chemical components, which can then be used to create new materials.

Thermal recycling involves heating the polystyrene to high temperatures, which breaks it down into a gas that can be used for energy.

Polystyrene Items that are Recyclable
Styrofoam take-out containers (rinsed)
Clean polystyrene cups and plates
Packing peanuts (clean and bagged)
Polystyrene egg cartons (clean and empty)
Polystyrene trays (clean and empty)


Polystyrene Recycling in Different Countries

In terms of polystyrene recycling around the world, the United States has been slow to adopt it.

However, some cities and states have implemented polystyrene bans, which have encouraged more recycling efforts.

In Europe, polystyrene recycling rates are much higher, with some countries achieving rates of up to 80%.

According to a report by the European Commission, polystyrene recycling in the European Union has increased by 47% since 2006.

In Asia, polystyrene recycling is also becoming more common, with countries like Japan and South Korea leading the way.

Benefits of Polystyrene Recycling

So why should we bother recycling polystyrene?

Firstly, it’s better for the environment.

By recycling polystyrene, we can reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or the ocean.

According to the EPA, plastics make up around 12% of all municipal solid waste in the United States.

Secondly, it’s economically beneficial.

Recycling polystyrene reduces the demand for virgin materials, which can save money on manufacturing costs.

Lastly, it’s socially responsible.

Recycling polystyrene can create job opportunities in the recycling industry and help support a more sustainable economy.

It’s also worth noting that recycling polystyrene can have a positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the American Chemistry Council, recycling one ton of polystyrene can save around 7,600 kilowatt hours of energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 6,000 pounds.

Top 7 Ideas To Reuse Polystyrene

  1. Packing Material: Use polystyrene as packing material when shipping fragile items. It provides excellent cushioning and protection, and it’s lightweight, so it won’t add too much extra weight to your package.
  2. Arts and Crafts: Polystyrene is a versatile material that can be used for all sorts of arts and crafts projects. You can use it to make sculptures, models, and even costumes.
  3. Insulation: Polystyrene is an excellent insulator, so you can use it to help keep your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. You can use it to insulate windows, doors, and even walls.
  4. Gardening: Polystyrene can be used in gardening as well. You can use it as a filler in large planters or to improve drainage in potted plants.
  5. Floating Devices: Polystyrene is buoyant and can be used to make floating devices, such as rafts or pontoons.
  6. Cushions: You can use polystyrene to make cushions or pillows for outdoor furniture.
  7. DIY projects: With polystyrene sheets, you can create a variety of DIY projects such as custom-made phone cases, laptop sleeves, or even building blocks for children.


Polystyrene is a type of plastic that’s often used for things like packing peanuts, coffee cups, and take-out containers. It can be recycled, but not everywhere does it because it can be tricky and needs special handling.

When polystyrene is recycled, it helps to keep our landfills from getting too full and can even save energy. If you can’t recycle polystyrene where you live, you could use it for crafts or as packing material. Just make sure you don’t throw it in the trash because it takes a really long time to break down and isn’t great for our planet.


What is the best way to dispose of polystyrene?

The best way to dispose of polystyrene is to recycle it.

Many recycling centers now accept polystyrene, and there are also specialized recycling facilities that can handle this material.

Why can I put polystyrene in my recycle bin?

While policies and practices may differ between different cities and municipalities, in most cases, you cannot put polystyrene in your regular recycling bin.

This is because polystyrene is often contaminated with food or other substances that can make it difficult to recycle.

Can I put polystyrene in my rubbish bin?

You can put polystyrene in your regular rubbish bin, but this is not the most environmentally-friendly option.

Polystyrene can take hundreds of years to decompose in landfill sites, and it can also release harmful chemicals into the environment.

What can I do with polystyrene packaging?

If you cannot recycle polystyrene in your area, there are still options for reusing or repurposing this material.

For example, you can use it as packing material when shipping items or donate it to local schools or community centers for use in arts and crafts projects.

Some stores and businesses also accept polystyrene for reuse or recycling.


  • Jen Wheeler

    Jen Wheeler, co-founder of Recycling-Revolution.com, holds degrees from UC Berkeley, Yale, and Stanford. A renowned environmentalist, she's championed sustainable practices at global events and leads EcoBright Solutions, focusing on recycling education and eco-friendly products.

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