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Is Polystyrene Recyclable? [Can You Recycle It From Home?]

is polystyrene recyclable

We go through a lot of polystyrene every year.

It’s said that just over 15 million tonnes of polystyrene is produced globally each year.

Guess what though – we don’t have 15 million tonnes of polystyrene being recycled each year.

So, is polystyrene recyclable?

Is polystyrene recyclable?

The simple answer is this: Yes, polystyrene is recyclable.

Uncontaminated polystyrene is 100% recyclable.

It’s thought around 100 tonnes of polystyrene is recycled in the UK each year. This sounds pretty good.

On a global scale though, 100 tonnes is just 0.0006% of the annual global production. That’s an incredibly small amount.

There’s quite a big caveat as to why more polystyrene isn’t recycled.

polystyrene recyclable box
Polystyrene box from the fish and chip shop

Why isn’t more polystyrene recycled?

The truth is that it’s not very easy or convenient to recycle polystyrene.

There are a number of reasons why polystyrene is not easy to recycle.

  1. Contaminated polystyrene (i.e. polystyrene with food or paint on it) cannot be recycled. You’d have to scrub clean and de-grease it.
  2. Specialist facilities and equipment are needed to break polystyrene up and compact it into blocks – this equipment is expensive
  3. There is no real incentive for councils or private companies to invest in polystyrene compactors and the facilities to go with it
  4. It’s a difficult material to collect – it’s very light but because it’s expanded, it takes up a lot of space. As it would enter a facility mixed in with other materials, it would also be difficult to separate and collect in big enough quantities to compact together.

To the everyday person, you have to go out of your way to ensure that any polystyrene in your possession is recycled.

This is because there aren’t many specialist facilities in the UK that deal with it.

Can you put polystyrene in the recycling bin?

Recycling stacking boxes

The general rule is no you cannot put polystyrene in your household recycling bin.

Most local councils will not accept polystyrene in the recycling stream and therefore will not collect it from your home.

This is the case for most people in the UK. Some councils may accept polystyrene, but I think these are few and far between.

You can check by heading to Recycle Now, search for polystyrene and put in your postcode to see if there are any nearby facilities. I checked numerous cities and locations across the UK and found nothing.

This issue is with the infrastructure, or lack of it.

For any eco-conscious person, this is disappointing.

How can I recycle polystyrene?

Unfortunately, there is no advice for recycling polystyrene.

I asked my local area (Greater Manchester) and they said to put polystyrene in the general waste bin.

This is not really the advice I’d like to hear as an environmentally conscious person. Hopefully one day we will be able to put polystyrene in the recycling bin.

polystyrene cup
Polystyrene cup

Company take-back of polystyrene

An awful lot of companies are happy to manufacture and use polystyrene but not many are willing to take responsibility for it afterwards.

This is both a shame and irresponsible. As far as environmental sustainability goes, it’s non-existent.

In order to recycle polystyrene, you will have to find a private company who have a compactor and who will accept the material.

As it’s technically recyclable, some companies actually claim polystyrene to be a green and environmentally friendly material. This is pure green-washing – check out my Eco Glossary for more on this.

However, some of companies do offer a polystyrene takeback recycling scheme. Check out these sites Ecclestons and Molygran.

How can recycled polystyrene be used afterwards?

Ok, of the little polystyrene that does get recycled, are there any secondary uses?

Recycing polystyrene in a facility looks like this:

  1. The original polystyrene is shredded
  2. It’s then pelletised or compacted into blocks or briquettes to be used again

Recycled polystyrene can be used to make:

  • Recycled plastic planks
  • Park and garden benches
  • Outdoor furniture products
  • Clothes hangers
  • Toys
  • Seedling containers
  • Plant pots
  • Picture frames

You can also use small amounts of polystyrene at home to re-stuff bean bags (or make your own), in packaging for any breakable items you might be sending in the post or as drainage at the bottom of your plant pots.

polystyrene waste cup in environment

FAQs on Polystyrene

Before you head off…

Polystyrene is not be easily recyclable at the minute. I’d like to see this change in the future, but then again I’d like to see polystyrene go out of production altogether.

It’s made with fossil fuels, highly processed and not good for the environment.

Alternatives could be to use paper-based containers, plant-based containers or 100% recyclable materials such as stainless steel and sustainable cork.

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Ben & Murphy Peaks Mam Tor

Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.

Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.