Most people have seen EPS, or polystyrene, used in a variety of products. This plastic consists of 96 – 98% air and is inexpensive, lightweight, water resistant and insulating.
However, throwing EPS away is not great for the environment. Like all plastics, it is not biodegradable and requires energy to transport, reprocess and recycle.
Household Polystyrene Recycling Programme
Polystyrene is lightweight, cheap and insulating but it takes up space in landfills and presents a threat to marine life when it escapes into our Waterways and Beaches. Many people are looking for practical alternatives to this type of packaging.
Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) cannot go in your kerbside recycling bin but there are now a number of locations around the country where you can drop off your EPS for recycling. The EPS is collected by EXPOL and repurposed into their range of environmentally friendly products, including home insulation and drainage products.
To ensure that your EPS is recycled, please make sure that it is clean and free from food residue, dirt, glue or stickers. You can drop off up to two full rubbish bags of household EPS at Wastebusters in Wanaka or Mitre 10 Mega Queenstown (call ahead to check that they have capacity). You can also return your EPS at the Amberley, Cheviot and Hanmer Springs transfer stations through the Green Waste Recycling programme.
Commercial Polystyrene Recycling
Businesses can now recycle their commercial polystyrene waste in New Zealand. Large quantities of clean expanded polystyrene foam can be dropped off at Mitre 10 stores in partnership with Expol to be recycled into building products instead of going into landfill.
Check your foam packaging for the Australasian Recycling Label to see if it is recyclable. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) cups, trays and foam packaging are all marked with the symbol.
Polystyrene can be crushed to be turned into a building product such as garden edging, window frames or skirting boards. It can also be melted and made into outdoor furniture, picture frames and decking.
Try to avoid buying items packaged with polystyrene recycling NZ, but if this is not possible use the ‘Refuse polystyrene’ option when shopping online. This will encourage retailers to use alternative packaging. There are also a number of research initiatives underway to find more natural alternatives, including bio-based plastics that will break down in the soil without emitting toxins into our environment.
Polystyrene manufacturers that are members of Plastics New Zealand are working hard to ensure that all packaging is designed with end-of-life outcomes and our local system in mind. Mitre 10 stores have joined forces with EXPOL to provide a nation-wide programme where you can drop off residential polystyrene from your retail packaging into recycling cubes, which will be recycled into new products, rather than sent to landfill.
Other manufacturers are offering customers a reusable packaging service, where they can purchase containers that can be returned to them for refills. This is an excellent way to reduce waste and save on packaging costs.
The Government is phasing out PVC meat trays and polystyrene takeaway boxes, along with some other hard-to-recycle plastic items like cotton buds, plastic drink stirrers and single-use plastic produce bags and labels. These items will be banned from sale late next year, with the aim of removing them from our landfills and waterways by mid-2025.
Polystyrene insulation products are made from a highly processed plastic (which is not as green as other forms of insulation). However, the product itself does not contain any airborne pollutants and has been injected with fire retardant. Unlike other types of insulation, it’s also safe to touch, non-allergenic and doesn’t itch.
Mitre 10 has started a service in partnership with EXPOL to take clean domestic polystyrene, which can be recycled back into building products. Recycling EPS reduces the amount of petroleum needed to make new material, but it doesn’t eliminate the need for oil entirely as energy is still required to transport and reprocess the polystyrene.
It’s important to check that the packaging has an Australasian Recycling Label, indicating it can be recycled at your local recycling centre. If you’re looking for a more environmentally sustainable option, polyester insulation is a great choice. It’s made from natural sheep wool – either new or recycled from carpet manufacture offcuts – mixed with polyester and preservatives.