What are the Different Uses of Polystyrene?

Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn

Polystyrene is a "polymer of styrene." Polymers are large molecules consisting of adjoined identical molecules, and styrene is a colorless, oily liquid. When polystyrene is made, its structure is that of a rigid transparent thermoplastic, resembling a stiff white foam. It is one of the most common types of plastic, and it can be found in the home, in the office, at industrial sites, and just about any other place you would find plastics. Businesses rely on polystyrene for a number of uses, including manufacturing, packaging, and construction.

Several boats, such as the U.S. Coast Guard's Defended class, have hulls made out of polystyrene.
Several boats, such as the U.S. Coast Guard's Defended class, have hulls made out of polystyrene.

Plastic forks, DVD cases, the outside housing of computers, model cars, toys, rulers, and hair combs are all made from hard polystyrene. It is found frequently in the food industry and used as a disposable transportation system to keep hot and cold foods at desired temperatures. Disposable and reusable items can be made from polystyrene as it is cheap but durable.

Uniform polystyrene pellets can be used as bean bag stuffing.
Uniform polystyrene pellets can be used as bean bag stuffing.

The packaging industry is also a fan of polystyrene. Foam peanuts and other polystyrene packaging materials keep delicate items safely ensconced in boxes, and expanded polystyrene (EPS) is a popular item for both individuals and businesses. Electronics, glassware, and chemicals are all kept safe with EPS. Foam peanuts can be poured loosely into boxes to house any shape of item, or EPS can be easily formed by manufactures to fit products exactly and provide the safest possible packaging.

Polystyrene is also found in the building business. Polystyrene block is used as an energy efficient means for constructing both homes and businesses. Polystyrene block form construction is touted as providing homes with even temperatures and fewer drafts. This type of construction also reduces noise, heating and cooling bills, and general maintenance. Durability and strength is also offered by this type of block form construction. The polystyrene is used in conjunction with reinforced concrete and is therefore a winner in the battle against weather calamities.

Whatever the industry, polystyrene is likely to show up in at least some capacity. It's durability, range of hardness and flexibility, as well as it's low cost make it a popular material for a number of projects. As an insulator, protector, and product with the ability to conform to any shape, it is hard to beat as a universal manufacturing material, and it will likely be found in a full range of industries for years to come.

Polystyrene foam can be used to make insulation.
Polystyrene foam can be used to make insulation.
Hillary Flynn
Hillary Flynn

Joining the wiseGEEK team has helped to satisfy Hillary’s insatiable curiosity for knowledge. She also manages an electronic publishing business that allows her to develop her skills in technical writing, graphic design, and business development. Hillary has a passion for satirical writing and enjoys traveling, especially to places of historical importance.

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Discussion Comments

bythewell

@anon140790 - It's safe to microwave food in polystyrene. The material doesn't contain water and it is the liquid molecules that are affected by the microwaves.

It might melt because it's in contact with the heating food but that's it. And it's been tested by the FDA to make sure that it's not going to be harmful.

Individual containers might have a mix of different kinds of plastics though, so if it doesn't specifically say on the container that it is microwave safe, then you're better off just switching to a ceramic plate.

umbra21

@anon136463 - There are places where you can buy blocks of polystyrene online. It depends on what kind of polystyrene you want.

If you're looking for block polystyrene, the kind that is used in buildings and general construction then I'm pretty sure you can get it at a building supplies store as polystyrene insulation.

If you're looking for foam or expanded polystyrene, then check out a stationary store, or anywhere they sell packing materials.

Craft stores also often sell different kinds of polystyrene since people use it in model making and different craft projects. But be aware that they might be selling it as specialized polystyrene (whether it is or not) and it might be more expensive there than in other places.

Really, it depends on what you want, so your best bet is to have a look online and see what is available and what prices it's going for before heading out to buy it (as a block is going to be quite large, you're better off buying it in person if you can, rather than paying for shipping).

anon140790

Is it safe to microwave food in polystyrene containers?

anon136463

okay so how can i get my hands on a block of polystyrene or whatever it's called?

anon121312

the material is very good. I want to get clear information about the applications of polymer chemistry in medicine and industry.

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