Tiger of the Stripe Blog

Do We Need Polystyrene? Whether Incinerated or Buried, it is an Environmental Hazard

Expanded polystyrene container for bedding plants

My wife keeps bring back bedding plants from the garden centre. They are invariably in expanded polystyrene containers and I was getting very concerned about the environmental implications. There are articles on the internet that suggest that it is recyclable but I know that Richmond upon Thames council doesn't recycle it. I contacted my ever-helpful councillor, Pamela Fleming, who told me that there didn't seem to be any London boroughs which recycled it. On further investigation, she told me that the root problem was that there is no identified demand for the recycled product. WRAP, the Waste and Recycling Action Programme, advises 'Avoid the use of expanded polystyrene (EPS), oxo-degradable or bio-degradable polymers as they are not currently compatible within existing household plastic sorting or reprocessing systems.' In the meantime, councils are planning to move from landfill to incineration. Given that this has been shown to produce soot and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in varying quantities according to the method of combustion, and since PAHs are toxic and carcinogenic, this doesn't seem a very acceptable solution.

Expanded polystyrene is also widely used in packaging for electrical goods. It seems to me that there is absolutely no excuse for using it. Most of this can be replaced with cardboard. Some years ago there were even computer manufacturers using popcorn instead of expanded plastic. Its use in garden centres seems so at odds with the idea of nurturing a little bit of nature near your home that I am surprised that it has been so widely accepted. On obvious (if possibly more expensive) substitute would be containers made from coir or some other natural fibre.