Is Polystyrene Safe and Environmentally Friendly?

3 September 2019

is polystyrene safe

Did you know that almost 120 million pounds of polystyrene were recycled in 2016 alone? Commonly known as Styrofoam, polystyrene is more sustainable than previously thought. Although it might be challenging to recycle polystyrene, it's not impossible. The more people reuse polystyrene, the more environmentally friendly it becomes. But is polystyrene safe? Here's everything you need to know about polystyrene and its environmental impact.

All About Polystyrene

Let's get this straight: polystyrene is the most popular type of plastic on the market. Polystyrene is found in everything from packaging to coffee cups, often called Styrofoam, because of the insulation products made by the Dow Chemical Company. Polystyrene is super flexible. That's why polystyrene is prevalent in packaging. But there's a catch: it's not easy to recycle polystyrene. Polystyrene is a kind of plastic that's formed from styrene, which is a liquid hydrocarbon. When a liquid hydrocarbon is heated, its molecules connect into a long chain. At that point, all you have to do is wait for it to cool down. Why? Because that's when it becomes a reliable product. Created by a German scientist in the 1930s, polystyrene is now used in everyday things like:

  • CD and DVD cases
  • Bean bag chairs
  • Plastic cutlery
  • Appliance Packaging

Styrofoam was officially invented in 1941 by the chemist Ray McIntyre. Styrofoam was the first form of extruded polystyrene foam. Expanded polystyrene is more practical than Styrofoam. However, it's not easy to find a recycling bin for polystyrene products. That's why it often ends up as trash on the side of the freeway. Polystyrene is too bulky for regular recycling vehicles to carry. Not to mention that it's costly to transport as well. So how do you recycle polystyrene?

How to Recycle Polystyrene

Although most recycling centres won't accept polystyrene, there's still hope. Some cities like Toronto and Los Angeles welcome polystyrene materials at their recycling centres. That explains why only 12% of polystyrene products are recycled. Manufacturing facilities that produce expanded polystyrene are required to recycle their unused product. What's the real deal about recycling polystyrene? In reality, it's much more affordable to manufacturing companies to make a new batch of polystyrene than to spend time reusing it. The solution? Consumers should reuse their polystyrene products as much as possible. Of course, it's pretty hard to find a new purpose for used coffee containers and cutlery. Nevertheless, it doesn't hurt for customers to repurpose things like packing peanuts. What about repurposing polystyrene products? Fortunately, companies like the Dart Container Corporation have at least four polystyrene manufacturing plants that rely on repurposing plastic from:

  • Schools
  • Grocery stores
  • Hospital rooms

How is polystyrene recycled, anyway? Used polystyrene must first be transported to a recycling plant. That's because leftover food waste must be removed. Next, the waste is separated from the clean polystyrene. Then, the food waste gets sent into a large grinder that crushes it into so-called "fluff." What happens to the clean polystyrene? It goes through a thorough wash and dry cycle. The fluff is heated and melted until all of the air is pushed out of it. After that, the melted fluff is put into a die, and polystyrene strands are produced. Is polystyrene biodegradable? In short, the answer is no. Nonetheless, there's a silver lining: since it's not biodegradable, there's no way for polystyrene to pollute the water or the air. That means that the polystyrene environmental impact is extremely low. How can you beat that?

Perks of Recycling Polystyrene

Recycled expanded polystyrene can be used to produce something called "polystyrene wood." Yes, you read that right. As if that's not enough, polystyrene wood is often used to build fence posts and community benches. Plus, polystyrene wood is way cheaper than hardwood too. It can also be used as a substitute for things like teak and mahogany, which reduces deforestation in tropical areas. Now: most polystyrene manufacturers use petroleum to create their product. The solution? Recycle all of your polystyrene products. That way, you can help reduce the number of oil barrels used to produce polystyrene. Why does this matter? Because when polystyrene is recycled, it has a positive impact on the land and the sea. Still not convinced? Sadly, science has shown that the majority of polystyrene that's produced ends up in the ocean. In turn, marine animals can die from getting polystyrene stuck in their digestive system. Naturally, recycling polystyrene can help put a stop to environmental pollution too. Another perk: when polystyrene is recycled correctly, it's taken out of the hands of those who use it to start backyard fires and scorch barrels. Why is this so important? Because polystyrene creates poisonous compounds when it's released into the air. That is unless the right kind of incinerator was utilised. Are you looking for eco-friendly Styrofoam? You're in luck!

Introducing Eco-Friendly Styrofoam

Did you know that there are eco-friendly bean bags? That's right. Nowadays, there's such a thing as expanded polystyrene that's friendly to the environment too. This is the most efficient way for the polystyrene industry to reduce its carbon footprint. What's the story about environmentally-friendly polystyrene products? Environmentally-friendly polystyrene was initially created in Germany by the chemical company BASF during the mid-1950s. Nowadays it's most common uses are packaging and insulation. Expanded polystyrene is super strong and lightweight. It is easily manufactured in a factory setting. Sustainable polystyrene is formed in three different steps. The first step is called steam moulding, which makes polystyrene beads expand to become much larger than they originally were. Why? Because this process gives them a durable shape. Next, the polystyrene beads are exposed to air for anywhere between one to two days. Finally, the expanded polystyrene beads are put into individual moulds. These moulds use pressure and steam to compress the polystyrene beads into the perfect form. What are the benefits of environmentally-friendly polystyrene? Expanded polystyrene is primarily made out of air. This means expanded polystyrene only uses minimal natural resources during its production. Expanded polystyrene doesn't have any trace of chlorofluorocarbons or hydrochlorofluorocarbons when it's manufactured. Therefore the ozone layer isn't damaged during production either. Expanded polystyrene doesn't cause any health risks to people, plants, or animals when it's being produced.

Are Polystyrene Beads Safe?

You might be wondering: are polystyrene beads safe? Polystyrene beads are mostly used to stuff soft products like beanbags. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, polystyrene beads used in bean bag filling are 100% safe. Virgin expanded polystyrene beads are the Number One choice for bean bag fillers. But what chemicals are used in the production of polystyrene beads? Expanded polystyrene beads consist of several ingredients, including:

  • Pentane isomers
  • Styrene
  • Ethenylbenzene homopolymer

Pentane isomers are one of the chemicals used in the production of polystyrene beads. There's only a trace amount of pentane isomers left on the polystyrene beads after the manufacturing process. How about styrene? It's true: the chemical styrene is present in polystyrene beads. Due to the small amount of styrene, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Association decided it's not enough to harm anyone. However, that doesn't mean that there are no environmentally conscious alternatives. Incredibly, some bean bag lovers use repurposed polystyrene beads to stuff their cushions! Wondering what the best filling for bean bags is? Just look for one with expanded polystyrene beads.

Natural Alternatives to Polystyrene Beads

Want to find a natural alternative to polystyrene beads? Look no further! The most standard alternative for polystyrene beads are:

  • Pillow stuffing
  • Reusable shopping bags
  • Beans

Sound crazy? Earth lovers can have all-natural bean bags too. Think about this for a moment: One of the best substitutes for polystyrene beads is pillow stuffing. You can usually purchase polyester stuffing at your local craft shop. Although pillow stuffing is usually made to fill toys like stuffed animals, it's also a fantastic way to create a chemical-free bean bag stuffing. Don't want to spend a bunch of cash at the store? All you have to do is rip open an old quilt to reuse the filling for your bean bag project. What about reusable shopping bags? News flash: When it comes to reusable shopping bags, there's no better way to recycle them than by stuffing them into a bean bag. Why? Because they're gentle, lightweight, and easy to fluff. Need a push in the right direction? Just collect the bags from your grocery store runs until you have a large amount. There's no harm in asking your friends to save up their grocery bags too. Have you saved up enough bags? It's time to tie the bag handle and twist it into the shape of a ball. Once they're inside of your bean bag, you should be good to go!

Other Polystyrene Bead Substitutes

Other polystyrene bead substitutes include:

  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Used clothing

Can you use beans and rice as a substitute for polystyrene beads? It's possible to use these organic materials as substitutes for polystyrene beads. Start by visiting your neighbourhood supermarket for the best deal on a massive bag of beans. Why? Because you're going to need a lot of beans to fill your bean bag. What kind of beans should you get? It doesn't matter, as long as you make sure to wash and dry them first. How can you use rice as an alternative to polystyrene beads? If you want to find a natural alternative to polystyrene beads, then buy a huge bag of rice from your local grocery store! Ready to take it to the next level? Combine beans and rice as all-natural substitutes for your bean bag chair. Lastly, you can even repurpose used clothing as polystyrene bead alternatives too. Instead of donating your family's old clothes, ball them up and toss them into an empty bean bag sack. Expanded polystyrene beads used in bean bags are environmentally-friendly!

 Is Polystyrene Safe?

Are you asking yourself: is polystyrene safe? The short answer is yes! But don't take our word for it. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, polystyrene is a harmless material. Expanded polystyrene beads are the best choice for bean bags chairs. However, there are natural alternatives out there. Nonetheless, expanded polystyrene beads are considered the safest bean bag filling on the market. On the hunt for a new bean bag chair? Check out our extensive selection! Like this article? Share it on social media!

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