Styrofoam or polystyrene packaging: Which is it?

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The words styrofoam and polystyrene appear to be used interchangeably by people all over the world. But in actual fact, there are some fundamental differences between the two. When it comes to the word ‘styrofoam’, what we have is a classic brand eponym, where a brand name has been used at a critical mass that it has become the generic name for the whole category. Think Band-Aid, Sharpie and Google.


Yes, There Is A Difference Between Styrofoam And Polystyrene 

Styrofoam and polystyrene are both foam materials made from polystyrene, but they have different properties and applications.

Styrofoam is a registered trademark of DuPont, and it is an extruded blue polystyrene foam made for construction and thermal insulation. It is not commonly used for disposable cups, coolers, etc.

Expanded polystyrene, or EPS, is a white, inflexible material manufactured through the use of steam and pressure using organic elements, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and does not contain chlorofluorocarbons. You will frequently see this material in cooler boxes, fish packaging crates, protective containers for bottles of wine, moulded end caps and corners, box packaging, cups, and other foam packaging materials. It’s also seen in buildings as an insulator and void filler.

EPS is available in various densities for insulation, construction, craft applications, and more. The applications of EPS are endless and can range from a drinking cup to packaging, helmets, theatre props, signage, and massive GEOFOAM retaining walls.


Polystyrene Packaging – Why Is It Still Used Today? 

Polystyrene packaging, specifically expanded polystyrene (EPS), is still widely used today for various reasons. It is lightweight and affordable with a good thermal and shock absorption performance while delivering lower CO2 emissions during transportation.

This versatile packaging material is used to protect a long list of items, from electronics to fresh fish, fruits and vegetables to highly temperature-sensitive vaccines with medications and the transportation of human organs for the purposes of transplant surgery.

EPS has been considered a smart packaging choice since the 1950s because it is reliable, versatile and sustainable. Its sustainability profile is excellent because it contains 98% air, which makes this material profoundly lighter than competitors with comparable insulation and shock absorption ratings during logistics. It uses resources such as water and raw materials efficiently during production, and it reduces the carbon footprint of everything it protects during transportation.

While there are plans to eliminate EPS packaging in Australia for single-use applications, it will still be used in some instances to protect and transport large appliances and electronics, until a fit-for-use replacement that provides the same benefits is found.


Expanded polystyrene is still a preferred packaging material for many retailers because it is light weight and has excellent shock absorption


Australia’s National Road Map to Phase Out Polystyrene Packaging

The Australian Packaging Covenant (APCO) has stepped out a roadmap to phase out EPS packaging nationally. For now, this will rely on the industry volunteering to participate in the phasing out of environmentally unfriendly, single-use plastic packaging.

Environmentalists believe the voluntary basis will make it difficult for Australia to achieve the National Packaging Targets by 2025. Although retailers such as Officeworks and Beacon Lighting have already replaced EPS with other forms of packaging such as moulded pulp material.


Changes On The Horizon

Let’s take a look at some of the EPS packaging that will be phased in the future and which products can be dropped off at a StyroCycle recycling facility in the meantime:

Packaging that can be dropped off at StyroCycle:

Clean consumer packaging (moulded EPS) and protective packaging for white/brown goods and electronics. You have no doubt seen this material in the boxes that contained your new computer, TV, printer, fridge, toaster, furniture and other homeware.

  • Fruit & Vegetable & Fish boxes – White polystyrene fruit and vegetable boxes (clean boxes only). All organic material and labels must be removed before recycling.
  • Beanbag beans – White EPS polystyrene beanbag fill. Must be clean and contaminate free.
  • Construction EPS offcuts – Uncontaminated (mud and concrete free) expanded polysytrene from building and construction sites


Clean Fruit, Vegetable & Fish expanded polystyrene boxes, along with bean bag fill can be recycled with StyroCycle


Packaging that cannot be dropped off at StyroCycle:

  • EPS loose-fill product packaging
  • Used for consumer product protection in freight, for example, loose foam pieces, sometimes called “peanut-shaped” loose fill. Breakables often come in boxes filled with this type of protective packaging and while it’s a hit with kids, it’s a big negative for the environment.
  • EPS food & beverage consumer containers:
  • Single-use hot and cold cups, tubs, bowls, dinner and side plates, etc. for hospitality. Plant-fibre containers that can be composted are a much more attractive option.


Polystyrene packaging peanuts and meat trays are considered contaminated so can not be recycled with StyroCycle


We hope this information has made your recycling options that much clearer! Join the eco-warrior revolution today, and don’t hesitate to contact us for any help you need with EPS questions.

We’re here to help with your recyclable styrofoam packaging! Click here to see where you can recycle your clean expanded polystyrene packaging with StyroCycle.


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