Posts tagged "polystyrene"

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.


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.

How can I reuse or recycle medical supplies/packaging?

We’ve had an email from friend of Recycle This and frequent commenter Bobbie:

I’m attaching a photo of a medication shipment I get every 3 months. The medicine has to be refrigerated and so that in itself creates all this waste. Please ignore the bookmark though, it is used to cover some private information. The syringe does not have ml markings on it, so I can’t use it for other things that have to be measured.

Of course, I want to know everyone’s idea(s) of how I can repurpose all this packaging into something useable. I already use the styrofoam boxes for other things and given many away, but frankly the size inside is pretty small 6″Wx8″Lx6″D (about 15cmWx20cm Lx15cmD) and can’t hold anything but tiny bottled drinks. I have used it as a lunch pail though.

Many creative people read your blog and I can’t wait for their ideas to pour in. I really like the useful ideas. Thank you very much and hugs to you for all the wonderful posts.

(Click on the picture to see a bigger version.)

My first idea for the styrofoam was a mini-cool box for picnics but it sounds like they might be too small to be much good for that — and how many of those would you need anyway? Any other suggestions?

A syringe could be used for refilling hand cream/moisturiser tubes from bigger tubes (as we discussed here) or tabasco sauce bottles – but again, you’d only need one or two for that – so what can be done with the rest?

How can I reuse or recycle beanbag filler?

beanbagWe’ve had a message on the Suggestions page from Jing:

Help! I have a beanbag which has flattened over the years and so I want to know a) what recycled stuff to refill fill it with and b) what to do with the useless little squished styrofoam bits.

Craft suggestions, if there are any, might be helpful for other people but please can I have suggestions that don’t mean I have to handle the styrofoam; I have a deep and ridiculous fear of the stuff and can’t bear touching it, looking at it, or the squeaky noise it makes when handled. Odd, I know, but as fears go it’s pretty harmless.

Yes, the feel and sound of the styrofoam balls is pretty ick-worthy – but those little foam things are surely useful for something…

In the (admittedly not many) flattened beanbags I’ve seen, the flattening tends to be one of two problems: either the bag has lost some filler or, particularly in the case of more structured footstool-esque beanbags, the fabric has lost its tautness and gone floppy. It doesn’t tend to be the filler that’s the problem – because the balls are so springy and tiny. Adding some more filler or reducing the size of the beanbag would solve the first problem, but the latter would need a new cover – essentially making a new beanbag for the old filler.

As for other uses, I’ve used beanbag filler for juggling balls but the styrofoam stuff doesn’t really have the right weight to it to be used on its own in there. It would be ok in (well sealed) soft toys though.

Some people use it in potting soil to aerate it – instead of perlite – but there are pollution/chemical leakage issues with that so I wouldn’t recommend it.

Any other suggestions? Any suggestions on recycled things that could be used in the place of more shop-bought filler?

How can I reuse or recycle styrofoam containers?

Styrofoam containerWe’ve had an email from Renee, who left just about a billion re-use suggestions around the site a couple of weeks ago (thanks Renee!):

How can I reuse Styrofoam cuts/containers and things? I don’t buy anything that comes with this junk but find it by the road and on the beach all of the time. I’d like to re-use it in some useful way.

I’m presuming that Renee means the stuff like type of “clam-shell” styrofoam containers that most major chain fast-food restaurants stopped using a few years ago (…I think – correct me if I’m wrong) but which are still used by a lot of independent take-out food places.

While researching this post, I found there is a lot of more eco-friendly starch/sugar-based clam-shell packaging around these days – but based on my experiences with take-out places around here at least, the nasty plastic stuff is still pretty common. So any re-use ideas?

(On a related subject, we’ve already covered flat-ish meat/veg trays & shaped fruit ones that are usually made of styrofoam or something similar, and other foam-like packing materials.)

(Photo by, coincidentally, another Renee, Renee Comet)

How can I reuse or recycle plastic cutlery?

Plastic forkWe’ve had an email from Sara R, asking:

What can I do with plastic forks? I always used to carry a proper one in my bag so I didn’t have to pick one up when I got a pasta pot for lunch but now the forks are inside the pot so I can’t refuse them. I’ve now got a stack of little forks that I don’t know what to do with. I reuse or recycle the pot itself but I don’t know about the forks.

Wikipedia informs me that plastic cutlery is usually Polystyrene – type 6 plastic – and that can’t usually be recycled easily so I guess we’re looking at reuses.

I guess they could be melted/moulded into jewellery or some of the other suggestions we had for metal cutlery but any plastic specific ideas?

(Photo by asolario)