How can I reuse or recycle moulded expanded polystyrene?

Kate’s other suggestion was expanded polystyrene foam packaging because while we’ve covered loose polystyrene peanuts and sheets of foam, we haven’t mentioned those nasty squeaky environmental nightmares yet.

Any ideas for moulded polystyrene that supports electrical stuff in transit? I can’t believe manufacturers aren’t forced to collect it, chibble it up and remould it into something else. Hate throwing it in the bin but what else can you do with it?

Despite hating the feel and sound of it when it rubs against itself (iccccccck), I break it up to use at the bottom of plant pots or to raise the pot a bit higher if it’s sitting low in a planter – but that’s usually just because I’ve not thought of anything else to do with it and it’s just sitting there in the garden when I need something vaguely it shaped.

So any other suggestions?

Best Suggestions

  • Reduce: Support manufacturers who think greener – if there is an option to buy the item from someone who uses cardboard or paper-based packaging, buy from them instead!
  • Reuse: There are a number of great reuses for polystryene – as crocks in plant pots, an insulation around a pond, as a coldframe, as a bath pillow – even for mounting artwork on walls. We featured our favourite suggestions in a recent “Five Fantastic Reuses” post.
  • Recycle: It is possible to recycle expanded polystyrene – follow the links in the comments to see if any companies are collecting it near you.
  • See the comments below for more suggestions and ideas

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62 Responses to “How can I reuse or recycle moulded expanded polystyrene?”


  1. Jenny May says:

    I’m a bit new to recycling because we don’t have a program for it here to make it easy or convenient. I thought about using these molded items as blocks as they come in interesting shapes. But, then my son started chewing on one and that was the end of that.

    What about wrapping the small ones with fabric to make a pin cushion. A reasonably flat one could make a great place to safely store my various crafting scissors.

    • paul says:

      Yes I have looked into the council putting a dedicated skip at the recycling centers or having a weekly collection from the road side as they do in Wales. None of this Blackpool council were interested in due to cost! because the polystyrene has no weight it doesn’t cost that much to send to land fill and it doesn’t put the councils over there targets of what should be recycled. there are many ways of recycling polystyrene within the industry, the problem occurs in trying to get it back from the indivual. I agree that it should be taken back to the store where the item was purchased for the company to deal with. or clear information on the box where it could be taken locally within your usual running about. THIS IS THE MOST VIABLE OPTION!! to deal with the masses of smaller quantity’s of polystyrene in circulation. I collect from all of the manufactures of polystyrene as many wholesalers as possible up and down the UK (it is always collected on a back load when the lorry would normally be coming back empty) and as many local businesses as possible. I am even going to the lengths where I’m thinking of canvassing my local streets where it could be brought to my house.
      Contact me if i can help PLAYTIMEUKLTD@AOL.COM

  2. Emms says:

    You can cover them in fabric (like old towels or somethign) to make a floating bath pillow. I guess you would need to get one that’s about the right size and cut down any knobbly bits to make it more comfortable.

  3. Tien says:

    Someone once made a Halloween costume out of it.

    http://tinyurl.com/y8ynsj

    Donate it to architecture schools. I recall having used some as filler for plaster models.

    Play with it – find a styrofoam cutter (basically a heat wire) and cut away at it. I loved doing that… Oh.. the fumes. Kidding.

    If it’s a particularly flat piece, you can draw on it and chisel out the rest or vice versa. I made “art” out of a vegetable box once. You can likely make a crappy, yet large scale stamp.

    Non-biodegradable fortress for kids. Hot glue or bamboo skewers to stick together.

  4. I suppose you could cut them down and make them into kinda penut-shaped things and re-use them?

  5. Iota says:

    Drop the polystyrene in a good solvent, organic solvents are available. It will melt down into a sticky paste, this paste makes a very strong adhesive.

    • Jenny says:

      Please be careful with this kind of stuff – organic solvents are generally extremely toxic/carcinogenic!!!

    • Bernard MICHEL says:

      What do you call organic solvent ?? My mind is not chemically oriented !! Could you give name or trade mark name , or whatever can help ??

  6. C.C says:

    You could cut it into smaller pieces and use it as insulation between the walls of your solar oven.

  7. Louisa Taylor says:

    Place the pieces of polystyrene amongst the soil in garden tubs – it lightens the tubs considerably, which is obviously useful when you want to move the tub, and creates the bulk which reduces the amount of compost you need. I also suspect it might aid drainage because it was Alan Titchmarsh who originally proposed the idea.

  8. Paul says:

    Lobby to have it banned along with any packaging materials that are not recyclable.

    Refuse to buy things that are packed/wrapped in non-recyclable materials.

    • Cheryl says:

      Excellent answer!

    • Anonymous says:

      horrible answer. the land only fill up with this crap because no one as taken the initiative to recycle it grind it down and turn it into compressed insulation because it is not a thermo-plastic. by banning or making it harder to produce poly polystyrene homes would be not efficient in heat retention. go to architecture school and you will learn how Styrofoam is saving and not destroying the planet. the only problem is people don’t reduce or reuse the material which is best. because it cant be melted once it is set. so the answer is to be smart and make billions of dollars by reusing the stuff and not whining because we cant think of a way to solve the problem aside from making government do everything for us. we need to use the nasty stuff to make wonderful things that change the world. depleted uranium is another story more difficult to figure out what to do with that stuff.

  9. Ryan says:

    I don’t know, but I bet someone in the future will think of something…throw it away.

  10. Harald Walker says:

    quick and simple: a DIY laptop stand
    recycling Plexiglas and packing foam
    http://netwalker.nl/2007/02/11/low-cost-diy-laptop-stand-in-15-minutes/

  11. 5183457 says:

    here is an idea… brake it down into rally small pieces and use it for insulation. polystyrene is a fantastic insulant and you can fill your walls or your ceilings with it. if your renevating your home you will save a ton of money, on you insulation and you keeping this thing out of the landfills. remeber, you can never have too much insulation. note that newer polystyrene will not burn, it self extinguishes.

    • jillian says:

      I like this idea…it works very well! We did it recently to save on caulk, after realizing the “caulk saver” sold in stores is a tube of polystyrene. We had enough of that crap at home!

    • jerry says:

      Never put it in your walls or ceiling. It is EXTREAMLY FLAMIBLE AND TOXICWHEN IT BURNS IF YOU EVER HAVE A HOUSE FIRE….

      • Dan says:

        I concur with warning concerning use as insulation unless treated with a fire retardant of some kind. Its thermal insulation properties are excellent, of course, so searching for a retardant of some kind is worthwhile.

  12. peter_gooch_loves_men1234 says:

    ryan, this is a recylcing website, and you used the 3 deadly words….. THROW IT AWAY! I cyber slap you biatch

  13. Darren L says:

    Hi, peter_gooch_loves_men1234 – I love the name, by the way. I’m sure peter is thrilled to bits as well.
    Anyway, i’m Darren and I run a recycling committee in my village. We beleive that some items/substances take a large effort to recycle and will not overly damage the environment we live in.
    So I think Ryan makes a fair point when he says those ‘three deadly words’, and although you are very correct in saying that this is a recycling-based website, there are some items, the ‘binning’ of which is acceptable.
    I am also a member of this larger committee and have been for over a year now – we always love to have new members join the fight against landfill destroying the planet
    http://www.fpm.iastate.edu/recycling/
    Thanks for reading,
    Darren L
    Sheffield

    • Stephen says:

      Hi,

      I’m concerned that someone on a village recycling committee is having this attitutde! If committees set up to deal with recycling think throwing stuff away is acceptable we’re all in big trouble. What about the manta of reduce, reuse or recycle. Everything can be used in one way or another. As for saying that Polystrene is not casuing any damage to environment????? erm well where shall i start, how about the extraction of the petroleum to create it, the energy use in making it, the simple fact that it is filling up landfill and that it will take about a million years for it to rot down and turn back into the carbon it came from. I can’t believe on a recycling website such comments are even being made?

  14. Jules says:

    Why not use it in the bottom of pot plants to help with drainage? That’s what I’ve done in the past.

  15. Rubin says:

    Hello,

    The major problem for me with pretty much all of these answers are that i live in a shared house with one room to myself and no garden. Ideally I need a recycling plant to do anything with polystyrene but there isnt one around to my knowledge. I have limited space and try to keep my room as minimal as possible. If there isnt a solution for true recycling then it should be banned, end of. Im surprised it hasnt been already!

  16. Sue says:

    Hi
    We have ton’s of old polystyrene blocks (5ft by 3ft by 2ft at least) from an old pontoon. We have no idea how to recyle or even ‘get rid of’ in a green or non green way that remotely resembles cost effective. Any suggestions welcome…
    missjpeg@hotmail.com (genuine email please dont laugh)

    • Bernard MICHEL says:

      Give that to boats builders !! We use it a lot in insulation !! And some use it even to build their boat , with some resin anfiber in and outside !! Very strong and very light result !! That way you save trees and have fun at the same time !!

  17. Mark says:

    I would be careful of using it as insulation polystyrene reacts with the pvc coating of electrical wires making the wire go sticky and generally look melted, this does take a long time, years, but people tend not to check the wiring in the attic for years either, take advice from an electrician, or at least wrap cables in something protective before burying under packing chips/blocks

  18. Alison says:

    These people seem to accept EPS for recycling (though of course you have to get it to them – hence greater carbon footprint): http://www.expanded-polystyrene-recycling.co.uk

    • Mick un Em says:

      EPS is just what we need right now.
      We’ve just finished puting up three falt packs of furniture from Next. They were welll packaged in big cardboard boxes and lots of poloystyrene =o/
      I started braking it all up and puting it in to black bags for the dustman, not what i wanted to do at all, for one thing it would of probably been over ten bags, and the thought of all that crap going in the ground is frightning.
      So i googled “recycle poloystyrene” and found this great site.
      I’m about 40 miles from the nearest EPS Depot =o/ which is a shame, but we will probably make the trip.
      Many thanks to all who have posted.

  19. marigold says:

    my hens love to eat it, which horrifies me. they actively seek it out if we have some around. craaazzzzy chooks. however, it hasn’t done them any obvious harm (tho we wont eat the eggs after they have eaten it). i’m curious as to what their bodies turn it into…..

    • Matilda says:

      The pieces of polystyrene look like snail/slug eggs, so birds will go crazy for it. Not good for them, though.

  20. Zaria says:

    I’ve used small piece of polystyrene to mount pictures on the wall in an interesting way: you glue a flat piece on to the back of a picture; better if it’s on reasonably thick paper, then bang nails into the wall and simply push the nail heads into the polystyrene on the back of your picture. The finished effet is that the picture appears to float slightly off the wall and it looks very chic: you have to be careful wiht the light and shadow in the room, and it sometimes helps to pain the nails the same colour as the wall so they don’t show.

  21. Sofia says:

    Isn’t it funny how the only interesting post on this site was drowned by stupid ramblings…

    This is a great answer and the only relevant answer to the question at hand:

    5183457
    September 17th, 2007 at 12:52 pm
    here is an idea… brake it down into rally small pieces and use it for insulation. polystyrene is a fantastic insulant and you can fill your walls or your ceilings with it. if your renevating your home you will save a ton of money, on you insulation and you keeping this thing out of the landfills. remeber, you can never have too much insulation. note that newer polystyrene will not burn, it self extinguishes.

  22. Sofia says:

    I do have one idea of my own if anyone would care to hear…

    Maybe we should all decide here…once and for all… where it should go…

    and send it there.

    That would be very decisive, wouldn’t it?

  23. Sofia says:

    I think that the most important thing is to store it somewhere whilst we are deciding what to do with it..don’t you think?

  24. Sofia says:

    Maybe the responsibility should lie with the manufacturer. So when we buy something i.e. t.v. we send it back to the shop and they send it back to the warehouse and finally they send it back to the factory which in turn send the packaging back to where it cake from. Basically we should put pressure on the retailer to return the packaging.

    • elserj75 says:

      yes thats great, how much diesel will be used transporting the EPS from one shop to another and then onto the warhouse, there are some crazy comments from people who really dont see the bigger picture, do you know that more energy is spent producing paper pulp moulds than EPS? and in fact the paper pulp moulds are not recyclable? after being mashed down “pulped” the paper fibres are too short to be used for recycling

      • Chill* says:

        Perhaps it’s you, elserj75, who’s having trouble viewing big pictures.

        The lorries mostly return back to the distribution warehouses empty from the shops- they should be carrying packaging, ideally to be reused and if not, recycled.

        In Sweden most 2 litre drink bottles and the like are designed for reuse, being made of thicker plastic than we use here in the UK. They carry a deposit and are returned to the shop when empty. When the lorry drops off its crates of full bottles, it picks up the empties. So simple, so good.
        This should be the case worldwide with as many items as possible. It may take a while to get the infrastructure set up, but once that’s done it’s good for everyone. I’m sure it will be as oil becomes more difficult to extract, more in demand and more expensive.

        Just because EPS is cheaper does not make it better. The fact that moulded paper packaging may not be recyclable does not make it worse than EPS- have you been to a river where EPS peanuts line the banks at the high-water mark? That would never happen with paper moulded packaging. And it’s very unlikely that paper packaging would ever make it to the ever expanding Great Pacific Garbage Patch. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch
        Oil is a finite resource and should be used sparingly, just because it’s currently cheap doesn’t mean that we should be using it up as if it will last for ever.

        If it was up to me, the government would ban all oil based and unnecessary packaging and charge tax on any that wasn’t recycled.

  25. Jane says:

    My mother used it to keep ice from her pond in the winter, and keep her baby fish warm!!!

  26. msd says:

    polystyrene is a great insulator. I read an R rating of 3.5 per 3cm. With this in mind i collected all the boxes of about 2.5cm in thickness from the local markets. things like broccoli is transported with ice in them.
    I used a very hot knife to cut up the boxes in to flat sections and insulated my entire roof with 5cm of polystyrene.
    The vapor of from the knife is not to be breathed but it saved me the mess of crumbled boxes.

    Free home insulation low heating costs and recycling. Yay im collecting now to put behind the new plastering we are doing of our walls.

  27. Imogen says:

    Post it to your minister for environment together with a note calling for it to be banned – needs to be done on a campaign scale (hmm carbon footprint though … but would be worth it on balance if it worked)

  28. PAUL says:

    Hi all,

    I own a business that recycles polystyrene. we use 5 40ft loads of scap a week but need more! most comes from the manufacture of it but i am now looking into collecting from the larger companys that uses it in packaging there products. maybe in the future you will be able to take it back to the shops you buy from. email is playtimeukltd@aol.com if any of this is interst to anyone.

  29. John says:

    Try this. It is fantastic bit of kit if you generate quantities of polystyrene

    http://www.styromelt.com/

  30. Bridget says:

    Here is a good idea for recycling polystyrene – look in the yellow pages for the companies that advertise those manmade rocks for landscaping/water features etc. They use crushed up polystyrene mixed with other goodies. We stock ours up and then phone them, and they come and collect. Hope that helps…

  31. alison mccullough says:

    Some great ideas guys, I’m really glad I clicked on here, thanks.

    Could also try this website I’ve just found: http://www.eps.co.uk/packaging/recycling/recycling_1a_compacted.htm. Then click on “EPS recyclers”, to see if you are near one. (EPS = Expanded PolyStyrene apparently).

    I might grind mine up and add to the soil in the garden to help drainage or insulate the loft. Love the idea of all sending it to one place all at once to make an impact. Also it’s bringing out all sorts of creativity in people, which is one positive.

    But definitely store it while you come up with a solution, binning is for quitters!!!

    • Mick un Em says:

      I’ve just replied to your first post about EPS. =o)
      EPS seem’s to be the best option for us, its just a shame our nearest depot is 40 miles away.
      But we will probably do the trip.
      Thanks again.

    • Dan Garner says:

      Please don’t grind it up and add it to soil as it will be eaten by animals and it will damage their health. If not eaten directly it degrades into microscopic particles which are assimilated by animals lower down the food chain. When in turn these animals are eaten the particles move up the food chain with each successive predator becoming more and more concentrated (and toxic). Either way adding it to your soil is an environmental catastrophe.

  32. bobbie says:

    I’d like to brake it into little balls fillings for bean bags anyone know were i can get to done

  33. JCL says:

    Be careful re-using polystyrene!
    *Especially* for insulation. Polystyrene is highly flammable and building codes/regs in US/EU require a flame retardent barrier and sometimes the polystyrene itself to be treated.. Plus far as I remember there is Extruded and Expanded polystyrene types. One is water permeable and less dense than the other and (I forget which) but the one used for electrical packaging is the one least suited to building/construction use.
    That said polystyrene is a very good insulator and there are commercially available concrete enclosed forms/blocks, etc that use polystyrene which meet fire safety regs. A google search gives lots of examples of fires due to polystyrene.
    Avoid trying to reduce it using solvents. But if you must then wear protective gear and do so in a well ventilated location – the process will release some pretty nasty toxins. Same for burning – combustion is incomplete and releases carcinogens..
    Store your polystyrene safely and securely – it will play havoc on your pets digestive system and could be fatal if ingested.

  34. tim says:

    Seems like most people that complain about the use and recycling properties of EPS cannot write or spell (to do a google search) or cannot read (to educate themselves regarding the recycling of polystyrene) or simply do not have electricity on at their house so cannot use their computer (due to trying to reduce their carbon footprint beyond that of an ant – goodness knows what they do when they fart). The truth is that all plastics can be recycled – and recycling them would reduce the need to produce more from (the most feared word) OIL. The most sensible comment made above (other than comments from those people involved in the polystyrene processing industry) is to designate somewhere in your local area (a transfer station) that all this can be dropped off free of charge for pick up by recycling companies…

  35. Anonymous says:

    you didn’t say how the polystyrene is actually moulded into different shapes – i need to know – please!? i can’t find it anywhere else.

  36. larry says:

    i dig this website it’s just what i needed! thanks. but umm how do they remould polystyrene? does anyone know?

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