Polystyrene got lumped with ‘bad plastics’ in the old days before it was recycled in our country. Today there are still those who don’t understand that any product which you personally make sure is recycled, is green.
So most of the time the essential ingredient in the story of waste is not what material you’re using, but how you personally decide to handle it once you’re done with it.
The polystyrene recycling industry in South Africa is effective and vibrant and there is a need for more polystyrene. So if you’re sitting somewhere with your hands in your hair, get active and organise something. I did that 20 years ago. Anybody, anywhere in the country can do it!
Light weight picnic material
Some people wonder what to use when they pack picnic baskets for their clients or families. When I used to train teachers in integrated waste management (which is basically the reduction, the re-use and the recycling of waste) we’d have a party on the last day. I had to provide drinks for a big group of people. Of course I purchased juice in bulk (saving on packaging), but what did I take for cups?
I purchased the lightest, most transportable, most recyclable cups I could find: polystyrene. Then at the end of the event I gathered them all back, popped them into my dishwasher, and next course I used them again. They don’t absorb water, so they are very much re-usable.
The other place where I use them every day – for every cooked meal my family prepares – is in my hotbox. Saving huge amounts of energy. But I’ll tell you more about that next time.
Creative polystyrene competition
There are many ways to re-use polystyrene. To get the creative juices going, we are launching a Creative Polystyrene competition in collaboration with the Polystyrene Packaging Council. We are looking for the most interesting and beautiful items you can make from this material. You may even want to think Christmas, but also functional and always attractive. Waste art must not look like waste- we are looking for a completely new product which is marketable and cool.
What can you win? First prize is R1000 in cash, second prize R600 and third prize R400. Get cracking immediately. You have only 2 weeks. Send photographs of your finished products to me here by 9 December.
In case you are still unsure what is polystyrene packaging and what is not, here are some guidelines. Firstly, it’s a number 6 plastic, according to the the number underneath.
There are 2 types:
- Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is used to make cups, bowls, plates, trays, clamshells, meat trays and egg cartons as well as protective packaging for shipping electronics and other fragile items. (This is the one filled with air.)
- High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) and clear General Purpose Polystyrene that is used in products such as cutlery, yogurt and cottage cheese containers, cups, clear salad containers, television sets, computer casings, CD boxes and make-up containers.
Why is this a smart solution?
- Only about 4% of expanded polystyrene foam packaging is polystyrene, the rest is air.
- Polystyrene is greatly superior to other materials when it comes to the creation of shapes and colours, making it a creative material to work with.
- Polystyrene is the ideal material for protecting sensitive products during transport and storage.
Why is it so safe?
- Polystyrene protects food from bacteria and moisture, guaranteeing quality, a longer shelf life and prevents the spread of disease.
- Styrene, the monomer polystyrene is manufactured from, is not toxic but a natural product found in many foodstuffs, including strawberries, beans, wine and coffee beans.
- Extensive research has proven that styrene is perfectly safe for normal use
- Polystyrene packaging can come directly into contact with food as it is completely lifeless and meets all the prevailing international health standards
- Polystyrene offers chemical resistance, which allows many products to be packed without the goods being affected.
Why is it so convenient?
- Polystyrene does not absorb water or vapour, so your fresh food stays fresher longer with less need for preservatives.
- Polystyrene offers excellent insulation properties, keeping hot drinks hot and your cold drinks cold.
- When packed in polystyrene, fruits and vegetables retain their vitamin C content longer
- Polystyrene protects its contents and maintains its strength and shape, thus reducing food waste due to spoilage or damaged packaging and leakage.
Lowest energy footprint of all
- Polystyrene has low weight providing savings in fuel consumption reducing the environmental impact of transporting products.
- All packaging leaves an environmental footprint regardless of material type – polystyrene packaging uses the least energy and resources to manufacture.
- In SA, where electricity is scarce, it’s good to know that the amount of electricity used to make polystyrene is insignificant.
- Because Polystyrene cups are the lightest take-away cups, there are fewer air emissions when transporting – one effective way to slow global warming.
- Polystyrene does not damage the ozone layer since it does not use CFC’s (chlorofluorocarbons) in the manufacturing process.
- Polystyrene is only a by-product of oil conversion – no oil is drilled simply to produce polystyrene.
Don’t run on assumptions (ass-u-me, making an ass out of you and me).
- Find out more at Polystyrene Association of SA.