What is polystyrene?

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Gillian Swart

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What is polystyrene?
« on: 23/02/2010 16:30:02 »
Gillian Swart  asked the Naked Scientists:
Dear Chris

I am living in Stellenbosch, S.Africa, in one of the most beautiful Valleys in the Cape, BUT at the entrance to Devon Valley , we have a landfill site, misnamed as the only thing it is filling is a background view to the approaches of Stellenbosch, it is an odiferous mountain of rubbish!

I will not bore you with all the details, but this has been mismanaged for years, and is now past its "sell by date".  So we are busy trying to get it closed down.     This however will not solve the problem, which seems a worldwide one of how to dispose of our rubbish?

We are all becoming 'born-again' recyclers, doing the compost thing and endeavouring to make a difference ! However, I feel that one of the biggest enemies is polystyrene, none of the recycle companies want to take it as they say you cannot recycle it.    

My question is what exactly is polystyrene ?  All our meat and lots of the veggies here are packaged on trays of this material, many of which are now black, so you can't see if there is any thing 'iffy' on them and I wonder ,like the plastic bottles etc just how healthy can this be?

I would like some scientific facts to back-up reasons for banning the use of these trays in the food industry please. I gather that California has already banned its use !

Thank you for a wonderful show on our local radio , I have just ordered the last copy of your book!!

Yours sincerely

Gillian Swart   (The geriatric activist from Devon Valley Farms Assoc)                

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 23/02/2010 16:30:02 by _system »


Offline NothaShrubry

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What is polystyrene?
« Reply #1 on: 23/02/2010 17:14:20 »
Wow. I've never heard of food packaged in polystyrene, except for the terrible kebab van things. I thought it mostly came round furniture and electronics!

Polystyrene is a polymer of styrene, simply enough, where styrene is a benzene group on a double bond. The bulkiness of the benzene group means that the chains of polymer don't pack closely, giving the plastic the familiar light, spongy properties. newbielink:http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7a/Styrene_polymerization.png [nonactive]

It can be recycled, however. Pencils can be made of melted down polystyrene - and you may also direct the emailer to somewhere like newbielink:http://www.recyclethis.co.uk [nonactive]. I don't know how it works over there, but here I would definitely have a chat with my local counsellors.