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Polystyrene Information

In primary school we were always given polystyrene cups filled with soap in the winter. Once finished we would happily chuck them in the bin. In fact, if you lined up all the polystyrene foam cups made in just 1 day they would circle the earth. The polystyrene cup wasn't very popular first as heat from hot drinks would burn, and it would make the drink taste funny. Due to technological advances, the cup is much better nowadays.

What is polystyrene?

Polystyrene is a common plastic. In America, it is marketed quite often under the name, Styrofoam. Most commonly used for cups (which is 5% polystyrene, 95% air), it can also be used for insulation, takeaway containers, and translucent window panels. It was first manufactured in the 1930s, by BASF, a German chemical company.

Some polystyrene facts

* One ton of foam polystyrene can be made into 3.6 tons of paint.
* Polystyrene can recycled to make items such as Thermometers, light switch plates, egg cartons, vents, rulers, license plate frames, foam packing, and foam plates.
* You can reduce the toxicity of waste by using reusable ceramic coffee mugs rather than disposable paper or polystyrene cups.
* When burnt, polystyrene cups give off dioxins, which are bad for the environment.
* Polystyrene isn't very recyclable (the technology is improving though), and it isn't biodegradable.
* It is one of the lightest packaging materials on the market.

The polystyrene cup

The polystyrene cup has long had a poor reputation for being bad for the environment, and for being of poor design. Nowadays, technology has improved so much that polystyrene cups have been designed to be much better (no more burnt fingers and strange tastes). Recycling polystyrene is being harder to do, but it is being developed (see more information about the Save a Cup scheme below). Although we aren't suggesting people should use polystyrene cups instead of ceramic cups, it is worth thinking about this trade off. Polystyrene cups can be recycled. Ceramic cups need washing (think of the energy use), and there are hygiene issues too. These are just small factors in the great scheme of things, but worth thinking about.

Further information

The Save-a-Cup scheme
Launched by vending, foodservice and plastic industries to help collect the millions of cups used in the UK every week. For more information about the service they provide, check out www.saveacup.co.uk

News Related Articles
Styrofoam Cups - Clouds in your Coffee?
Styrofoam Food Containers, Styrene Migration, and Your Health - An interesting article from Grinning Planet about various implications of Styrofoam cups:
Grinning Planet

How to recycle or dispose of polystyrene?
Read our FAQ answer.

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