Is Polystyrene & Styrofoam Recyclable?

Polystyrene food packaging

Are you wondering if polystyrene is recyclable? Consider the following.

Does it look like polystyrene? Does it feel like polystyrene? Does it taste like polystyrene? Then it could be a rice cracker.

If you find yourself chewing on plastic foam, we advise that you stop doing that and read on to find out how you may be able to recycle the material and sleep better at night knowing that you’ve contributed to keeping our oceans clean.

Can You Recycle Polystyrene?

The short answer – No.

Common polystyrene is not able to be recycled due to it being a light plastic.

However, there are some forms of polystyrene that can be reworked, but this has to be considered separate from other recycling materials.

The type of polystyrene that can be recycled depends on the area where you are based.

polystyrene container

Can I Put Polystyrene in my Recycling Bin?

Polystyrene can’t be recycled by standard means, such as placing it into your general recycling bins for collection.

Currently, there aren’t many projects in place to have the materials sent to sites for processing.

The machinery required to crush the polystyrene is expensive to produce.

Trying to gather enough of the material on one site can be time-consuming as there aren’t so many regular routes set in place by councils and waste collection service providers.

Polystyrene’s ambidextrous qualities are a key reason why it has become so widely used in the UK for packaging and safely storing materials.

It is cheap to produce and shape to fit one’s own specifications.

From foam balls to more dense containers, it has many uses.

It’s also similar to other plastics due to its slow degradable rate.

After recognising the short-term benefits of using polystyrene, decide how to correctly manage the amount being used and control it for reuse or recycling whenever possible.

But, we can be glad that it is recyclable and will likely be more accessible in the future for reworking.

Someday the UK will be able to provide a more consistent plan for the processing and recycling of polystyrene and hopefully reduce the need for further production as much as possible.

What Can I Do with Polystyrene Packaging?

Draining Material for Plant Pots

By breaking down the material into small pieces and placing them at the bottom of a pot you can reduce the amount of soil needed for seeds.

We advise only using this hack for decorative growing and not anything that is meant for consumption.


For this trick, you will also need some liquid acetone which you will then add to a ceramic bowl (not plastic) and gradually add the polystyrene while stirring.

Once you’ve reached a thick consistency you should then use the glue immediately or it will dry.

DIY Structures

If the dimensions are big enough you can get creative and find ways you may make use of the material.

A couple of examples are DIY coolers and protective coverings for surfaces in gyms.

What Type of Polystyrene is Recyclable?

EPS (expanded polystyrene) is the form that is most commonly recyclable as other types require enormous amounts of processing and treatment before they can be reworked into a usable resource.

The act of doing so has shown to be far too costly to be considered for widespread use.

Expanded polystyrene really doesn’t need to be placed in with the rest of your general waste as it’s completely recyclable!

It also has an incredibly slow rate of degradation, meaning your descendants for the next few centuries will be able to stumble upon it.

Once it’s in the landfill it’s not coming out, and even worse, it can break down into particles and find its way into water sources.

Plastic particulates can already be found in most animals and drinking water.

That’s the same water we drink and the food we eat.

The quantity of EPS is on the rise every year, so we should expect to see far less waste of it in the coming years as more treatment centres and plans are being set in place.

How is Polystyrene Recyclable?

To understand how the material can be recycled we first need to look at how it is produced.

First a liquid hydrocarbon is heated and cooled so that the bonds linking the material together are stretched out and form a solid at room temperature.

EPS is composed of 90% air making it an effective insulator.

It’s for this reason that many people use the material to make their own DIY coolers as previously mentioned.

It’s also why hot beverages may be placed into them without it being too hot to touch.

It’s important to note that many of the characteristics that make polystyrene such a versatile material are also detrimental to the recycling process.

It’s so light that much of it will simply be carried off by the wind and as it is low weight / high volume, it is also costly to transfer between sites.

One of the general problems of all plastic recycling is that you have to gather the materials of a similar grade and colour together for sorting.

The object material can be identified by a number placed somewhere on the item.

Read more in our dedicated article on the recycling symbols.

Number six represents polystyrene and is the most challenging to process.

As EPS is often used for food containers they can often become contaminated with other materials.

Another obstacle that harms the practicality of recycling EPS is the fact that processing sites for the material are few and far between.

This means that the waste will need to be transported far to sites – a costly ordeal as EPS takes up a lot of volume and will burn through a lot of fuel per trip.

Compactor waste removal vehicles are one solution, but not a cheap one.

For now we will have to make do with the system set in place until more accessible services are available.

Get low-cost waste collections for your business

  • 30,000+ customers
  • 12+ years experience
  • Free bins & delivery
  • All UK locations

“Environmentally friendly waste collection and disposal services at an affordable fixed monthly price.”

The Times Logo
Get a Quote Call Us