Five fantastic reuses for expanded Polystyrene foam packaging

foam_packaging.jpgExpanded polystyrene, the moulded white shapes you get as protective packaging when you buy electronics or large toys etc, is a pain to recycle – it can be recycled now but not many places collect it.

Unlike its foam ‘peanuts’ counterpart which can be reused as multi-purpose packaging again and again, the moulded stuff only really fits around the item you got it with — but there are still some fantastic ways to reuse it.

1. Crocks in plant pots

Chunks of expanded polystyrene foam make great crocks for plant pots – particularly large tubs filled with shallow rooted plants. The light foam fills the space rather than heavy soil, making it easier to move around and it helps with drainage too.

Those worried about plastic chemical leaching may want to avoid using it when growing fruit or veg in containers though.

2. Use it to make artwork or to mount pictures on walls

Waste expanded polystyrene can be used to make fun artwork – it can be used as a core for sculptures or models.

Flatter sections can be used like poster board/foam core to mount pictures, photos or posters on walls – the resulting picture is rigid (so won’t curl) but light.

Deeper pieces of the foam can be used to make blocky canvas-style wall art – mount your picture so that it run around the edges, covering the foam sides. If you haven’t got a single piece of polystyrene that’s big enough, make a strong frame from lengths of it instead.

3. Floating bath pillow or bath toys for kids

Pick a reasonably smooth piece of expanded polystyrene and cover it with a quick drying fabric – thin cotton or an old swim suit perhaps – to use it as a floating pillow in the bath.

Or cover smaller, interesting shapes with fun fabric to make floating toys for kids.

4. Use it to make costumes

As it’s light, bulky and reasonably easy to modify, it’s perfect for turning into Halloween or fancy dress costumes where you want to be bulkier – or more robotic/mechanical – than you currently are.

5. Use it for insulation

The air trapped between the individual polystyrene beads makes it an excellent insulator. Some people are worried about using it around the house in case of fires but it can be used in other ways:

  • Coldframe – moulded expanded polystyrene boxes are great as cold frames in the garden as they protect delicate seedlings from the cold earth. They’re commonly used for shipping refrigerated vegetables or chilled/frozen fish so ask at your local market to see if they have any spares. Then you just need an old window or some scrap clear plastic sheeting for the top.
  • Ponds – if you’re installing a pond, consider placing a layer of expanded polystyrene around the liner and the earth. It’ll stop the cold earth leaching away the water’s last bits of warmth in the winter. You can also float the foam on top of the water in winter to stop it freezing solid – and in the summer, frogs can use polystyrene floats as mock lily pads.
  • “Hay” oven – a hay oven allows you to save energy while slow cooking stews & casseroles. You start the casserole on the stove then cover it and put it into a well insulated box for several hours – the retained heat keeps it hot and cooking. As the name suggests, hay is a common insulator – but expanded polystyrene can perform a similar job.

Reduce!

Try to avoid buying items packed with expanded polystyrene in the first place. Support more environmentally conscious manufacturers who uses paper based alternatives instead. And if you do, tell the original company why you didn’t buy their product – it might inspire them to be greener in the future too.

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8 Responses to “Five fantastic reuses for expanded Polystyrene foam packaging”


  1. Mary Horesh says:

    I fill the freezer drawers with polystyrene foam that I am not using, as the freezer is less efficient when having to cool air. So if you fill them with this it makes your freezer effiecincy improve.

    • louisa says:

      That’s another really great reuse – I’d forgotten how many there were. I always think expanded polystyrene is one of those irredeemable planet killers but actually, it’s quite handy. Still would much rather it wasn’t produced in the first place though!

      -louisa :)

  2. Bertie says:

    I break it up & use as a filler for items sent through the post.

    I also use it to insulate plants grown in containers through the winter.

    I used to use it to make hills on my Model Railway as a kid :)

  3. Ruth says:

    I don’t know about the UK, but where I live, in Norway, it can be recycled. It goes in the bin for plastic.

  4. Not many other uses but the material would make excellent modelling material that could be shaped not only by knife but also by glue (some glues will actually eat through the material making an interesting surface texture).

  5. SMW3 says:

    I can’t believe all the uses you’ve thought of for this stuff! I chop it up and stuff beanbag chairs that are flattening out from classroom use. The larger chunks don’t leak out of the inevitable little holes that “mysteriously” appear :)

  6. Anonymous says:

    As a temporary use, it can be used as an exhibit ‘stand’ to house small art works that children have made. eg: their painted handprints, once dried and cut out, can be attached to a skewer (using sellotape, string, staples or whatever suits you) and then placed into the ploystyrene for display.

  7. lily says:

    we do have environmentally friendly ways to recycle eps foam packaging. our company sells eps compactor which compact eps and we buy back the compacted eps to process them into pellets to make picture frames. all these procedures are phsical changes. not toxic gas is produced. besides, we reuse the waste eps to make beautiful frames. this is an inredible way to protect environment and converse resource! if you are attracted by our way of recycling, why not visit http://www.greenmax-machine.com/



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