Many people do not associate polystyrene (PS) with plastic. However, polystyrene is a versatile plastic used to make a large range of consumer products such as food packaging as well as laboratory ware.

This highly popular packaging polymer is used to manufacture products from fruit punnets and seedling trays to lightweight building blocks to be used in the construction industry and is fairly easy to recycle. When recycled, polystyrene goes through a similar process to other plastics used for packaging applications; it is picked, sorted and washed by hand before being processed. Polystyrene recyclate is granulated and extruded before being sold to manufactures around the country.

The recycling process

Polystyrene is first sourced and collected by waste management companies or informal waste collectors. It is then baled to be transported to recycling facilities where the recycling process is carried out.

When they arrive at the recycling plant, the plastic bundles are undone, and the polymers are separated by type and grade. Because of polystyrene’s many food packaging applications, the material will come in varying degrees of quality and cleanliness. To remove any contaminants the polystyrene waste needs to be thoroughly scraped clean or rinsed. For manufacturers who use the recycled polystyrene to produce lightweight bricks don’t need the material to be 100% clean, but the cleaner it is the better.

Once the polystyrene has been cleaned, it is shredded into small pieces which are then fed into a large heat extruder. This heat extruder melts the plastic down under pressure and extrudes it into blocks. These blocks of polystyrene is granulated or cut into pellets to allow for easier manufacturing. These granules and pellets are then packaged to be sold.

This recycled polystyrene can be manufactured into a broad range of products such as picture frames, clothes hangers, hair combs and plastic rulers.

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