A History of Polystyrene and Styrofoam

Polystyrene and Styrofoam are both widely known polymers and are both widely used – in many different fields. Most people, however, are not aware of the fact that there are multiple different types of Polystyrene, or of what their differences are or how they are used.
Polystyrene, commonly referred to as Styrofoam, is an incredibly light material that is also very strong. As a result, it has been used in everything from packaging to construction.

Polystyrene: Origins
The first documented use of Polystyrene was in the early 20th century when it was created as a substitute for natural rubber. It was first used in packaging in the 1940s but wasn’t widely accepted until the 1950s, when there was a huge push to create lighter, more efficient packaging. In the 1970s, Polystyrene began to be used as a construction material, mainly for insulation and is still widely used in that capacity today.
Polystyrene is made of spherical beads containing hydrocarbon. The beads are heated, made to cool down, and then reheated. While reheating, the beads expand into a mould of any kind.

History of Polystyrene Packaging:
An earlier version of the material was discovered in 1839 by Eduard Simon, a German Apothecary. But it was only a century later that the material actually had notable industry applications.
After being introduced in 1954, the material was used as a lightweight filler and in consumer and electrical appliances for semi-rigid cushioning.


  • Polystyrene is known for its dimensional stability, making it easy to mold.
  • The material is affordable, transparent, and rigid.
  • It has excellent electrical properties.
  • Has great gamma radiation resistance properties.

Due to its electrical properties, it is used in a lot of household appliances, refrigerators, cassette cases, etc. And as the material has dimensional stability, it is used in making egg boxes, food trays, and other such cases.
Recycles Polystyrene can also be used to make wood-like material that makes benches, chairs, and other furniture.

Styrofoam: Origins
Styrofoam is a brand name for expanded polystyrene foam, or extruded polystyrene foam, a thermoplastic polymer, used as an insulator and packaging material. It got its name from the Dow Chemical Company, which invented it. Some people think Styrofoam is a bad thing, but that thinking is largely based on misinformation. It has nothing to do with the “bad” chemicals that people associate with Styrofoam, nor is it particularly harmful to the environment.

Styrofoam Uses:
As Styrofoam is a kind of Polystyrene, the applications and advantages are pretty much the same. Styrofoam is widely used in building materials produced by its parent company. Its other uses also include usage in the insulation of windows and doors.

How to Recycle Polystyrene:
Polystyrene is a foam used in food packaging and is usually white or clear. It is a petroleum-based plastic, however, and so it is not biodegradable. To reduce the amount of petroleum-based products going to the landfill, it is important to recycle your polystyrene materials.

  • In the past, Polystyrene has been collected in bins, but that has all changed. Now, polystyrene collection is part of the recycling process for plastic #5. Some of the most common ways to recycle Polystyrene is:
  • Reusing Polystyrene is one of the most direct ways to recycle the material.
  • It can also be shredded, melted, and reformed as plastic.
  • One of the most common ways is to collect the product in bulk and reprocess it in the end.

Polystyrene and Styrofoam have come a long way since their inception. While Polystyrene is one of the more irreplaceable materials in the products it has established its usage, Styrofoam is a giant name in the Polystyrene market.

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