Mr Green’s cunning reuse for polystyrene

Filed in Blog by on November 10, 2010 13 Comments
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Sheet of polystyrene used by Mr Green

Sheet of polystyrene used by Mr Green

Polystyrene (Styrofoam) has to be the bug bear of any zero waster.

Virtually impossible to recycle in the UK, it breaks up into tiny beads for animals to choke on and there’s an abundance of it floating the Pacific Garbage Patch.

We’ve had sheets of this pesky plastic (code #6) taking up room in our garage for ages, but now Mr Green has put it to good use.For the past two years we’ve limped through the winter with a badly broken bathroom roof. It’s the original coal house, so is single story with a flat roof built onto the back of the house.

Fortunately the Gods of Good Fortune have been shining on us and we’ve not yet ended up filling the bath with rainwater.

As we have had a fantastic spring this year has become house maintenance year and Mr Green knew just what he was going to do with all that polystyrene.

Here’s what the man himself got up to:

  • Mr Green stripped off the old asphalt roof which was damaged.
  • Removed the rotten roof boards (rotted wood went into garden waste. Decent wood was cut up for burning on the wood burner).
  • Repaired and replaced some roof timbers.
  • Packed the roof space with flat sheet polystyrene. Wahee!
  • Replaced top roofing with Onduline.

Mrs Green’s Disclaimer. A word of caution about using polystyrene for insulation. Polystyrene is highly flammable unless treated with a flame retardant. So you must never use it in a room where someone sleeps or in the main part of a house. In our case, the bathroom is single story at the back of the house and we have smoke detectors installed.

We’ve been left with a bag of old asphalt which may just prove to be the very thing that scuppers our zero waste plans for the year. We’re still trying to find out if there is a reuse  / recycling option.

But for now, we’re happy that we’ve prevented several sheets of polystyrene ending up in the landfill.

What about you – what are your tips for reusing polystyrene?

Edit: Since writing this post, I’ve come across EPS Recycling based in Essex who tell me that all polystyrene is recyclable. On their site they say “Our aim is to reduce the amount of scrap polystyrene going to landfill and gave the opportunity for the local community and local businesses to have a drop off point.”


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (13)

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  1. Sharon says:

    You can use broken up chunks of polystyrene in the bottom of your garden pots to aid drainage.

  2. Pippa says:

    If you have big enough square pieces of polystyrene and some nice fabric, you can cover the poly sheet with the fabric, just pin or glue it from the edges to the back of the poly sheet and voilá – you’ve got yourself a nice piece of wall decor! If you secure the fabric with pins, you can change it whenever you feel like changing your decorations. If you already have a nail on the wall, just push the poly sheet to it, no need for any extra hooks or wires for hanging!

  3. Attila says:

    A friend of mine makes sugar flowers for wedding cakes etc and also makes toppers that can be made on a polystyrene base, e.g. the body of Postman Pat’s van or an armchair that a human figure sits on, all covered in sugarpaste. Solid sugarpaste would be too heavy and very expensive.

  4. CarSue says:

    We save up any sneaky pieces of styrofoam that make their way into the house, and come gift-giving time, we know that we have plenty of packing material for shipping.

    We recently received a package from a family member, but it was filled with those pesky styrofoam “peanuts.” I filled an old pair of panty-hose (ruined by a huge snag) with the peanuts, and then used the whole thing as padding material when shipping a birthday gift to a friend across the country. She loved the reuse idea, and commented that it was nice to have the peanuts inside the panythose so they didn’t create a mess when she opened the box, and it was easier for her to reuse as well.

  5. the polyfoam in which fragile items are packed can make a thick sub-floor insulating material between the flooring and the foundation–where the wood base plate meets. i did this today to ward off the cold. cut it with serrated bread knife, it squeaks when cut, i also glued some spare rigid foam to the inside surface of the crawl-space door and covered it with odd cloth as well. all found items. and new comfort.

  6. Jane says:

    Used some to insulate around the cold water tank in extension loft. Also made a tank lid. Don’t insulate underneath it! If anyone delivers you anything (eg fridge) packed in this stuff ask them to take it away with them – they are far more likely to be able to recycle it as they’ll have someone who collects a lot of it together.

  7. Jane says:

    Thumbs down to Morrisons for still packaging fruit in this.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @Sharon: great tip – thanks Sharon
    @Pippa: What an interesting idea, Pippa, especially as those 3D prints are in vogue at the moment.
    @Attila: Brilliant idea – I’m not at all artistic with cake making, but I can see the use for polystyrene.
    @CarSue: great reuse there! I use up bits in this way as well. I like the idea of containing the peanuts.
    @nadine sellers: I remember my cats making a beeline for the bean bag; the polystyrene beads in there were so warm and cosy….Glad your home is warmer thanks to your DIY 🙂
    @Jane: I didn’t know morrisons still packed fruit in polystryrene. Our store is being rebuilt to 50% bigger than it is now, so perhaps I’ll start spotting some nasties in there.

  9. anthony says:

    polystyrene is a good insulator, but you could use it for soundproofing im sure. hmm. maybe i’l try it out with a soundproofed shed/ music hut….. : 0 thanksfor the inspiration doodes

  10. Mrs Green says:

    @anthony: Hello Anthony; welcome and glad the post inspired you. I think sound insulation would be a great reuse 🙂

  11. Lorraine says:

    An insulated condominium chicken coup.
    I lined half my garden shed with tarpaulins to protect the metal walls and then glued sheets of polystyrene onto the tarps. I added a second layer of tarpaulin over the polystyrene to prevent the chickens pecking at the polystyrene and eating it.
    The chickens were warm all winter and there is the added benefit that it slightly reduces the noise of their ‘laying song’ every morning as they lay their yummy eggs. Chickens LOVE to peck at and eat polytyrene. I asked my vet, and according to him, there’s no nutritional value in the polystyrene and it just passes through them. This does NOT harm to the chickens. (Just fills them up a little until they pass it out the other end – which only takes a few hours)

  12. Lorraine says:

    @Lorraine: The other half of the shed is used to store their food, cleaning equipment and gardening impliments

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @Lorraine: Hi Lorraine, your chooks sound very loved and pampered! And what a great way to view your trash as a resource; thanks for sharing your happy story!

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