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Polystyrene recycling

The 4-step waste hierarchy

Polystyrene is produced from naphtha, a product remaining after the transformation process of petroleum in refineries and represents only 0.2% of the quantity of crude oil used in Europe. In fact, the average shopper uses more oil driving to the supermarket than is used in all the polystyrene packaging that protects their goods. And a polystyrene hot beverage cup requires about 50 percent less energy to produce than a similar coated paperboard cup with a corrugated cup sleeve.

The other way in which plastics help is by reducing waste, particularly food waste. The shelf life of a salad is enhanced by up to ten days when packaged in high impact polystyrene.


A key benefit of polystyrene is that it can be recycled and the PSPC is initiating and setting up recycling programmes all over South Africa. Unlike polystyrene, most single use, coated paperboard foodservice packaging materials are not recycled because the coating and paper cannot be separated economically. Polystyrene materials can be reprocessed and molded into new packaging products.

Polystyrene is generally not a high profile target in recycling terms (unlike glass, paper, aluminum cans, batteries, tyres etc.) but many companies, local authorities and individuals may not have considered the implications of just how much polystyrene they are dumping. The recycling of polystyrene is within everyone’s reach and can be done easily with the help of the Polystyrene Packaging Council.

First, you sort your waste, putting aside the polystyrene that can be recycled. Then you can take it to a drop off site (link) or put it out for collection. The polystyrene is collected, treated, taken to a factory, broken down or melted and used to make new products.

Using recyclables rather than raw material to make new products:
  • Could use less energy
  • Could result in less pollution
  • Saves natural resources
  • Saves scarce landfill space
  • Could create extra income and jobs
  • Could reduce littering
The recycling process and products made from recycled polystyrene
Please click here to download a presentation of the polystyrene recycling process.

How do I recycle?
Find out if there is a local drop off site for polystyrene or a kerbside pick-up service in your area and use it. You can also help to start a school or community collection programme. Please contact the Council for more information.

Before you start a recycling scheme, contact recycling companies and ask:
  • Where can I deliver the polystyrene?
  • Do you collect?
  • Do you supply bags or drums?
  • Do you pay me for my polystyrene, and if yes, how much?
Once you have identified your closest drop off site or recycling company, call them to verify drop-off or collection times. Make sure your polystyrene is clean and free of plastic film, loose parts or glued-on cardboard. Start collecting your polystyrene and happy recycling!

Where it is not possible to reuse or recycle polystyrene packaging, recovery of energy from waste is not only feasible, but it is a good fourth option in the waste hierarchy. Plastic has more calorific value than coal or wood, and yet it is an irony that as a nation we burn coal every day to generate power and bury our waste plastic. This is an enormous waste of energy and one which we would hopefully start moving towards correcting, as landfill space in South Africa is running out.

We should think of polystyrene and plastic simply as a “borrowed resource”. For example, a single food tray has the latent energy to provide enough power to light a 60 watt light-bulb for one and a half hours if burned in a modern energy-from-waste plant – as indeed they do in European countries.

Energy from waste is accepted and proven throughout Europe for capturing the energy content of waste and replacing fossil fuels. It also reduces the creation of CO2 and Methane gasses and reduces waste volume going to landfill.

Unfortunately, South Africa is far behind Europe when it comes to the incineration of waste. And the inclusion of plastic, including polystyrene, in the mix of waste is of great importance in generating power efficiently. So we should not be afraid to demand this clean-burn technology. Clean and safe energy from waste could ultimately provide hundreds of thousands of homes with the benefit of energy.


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