10. What do I do with Polystyrene?

​​​Polystyrene /Styrofoam is nasty stuff that takes about 500 to a million years to decompose, breaking down into small pieces (nurdles) polluting our waterways, ocean and environment.

Given its lightweight, Styrofoam can also travel vast distances, often accumulating in our soil, waterways or shorelines. Unfortunately, much of it sinks to the bottom of the sea, polluting the actual seabed too. When fish eat these toxic materials, the chemicals bioaccumulate, making them harmful to the people who then consume the fish.

In addition to pollution;

  • It’s a petroleum-based plastic.
  • Styrene, one of Styrofoam’s core elements, is a possible human carcinogen.
  • The chemicals used in the manufacturing process for Styrofoam are toxic, contributing to air pollution and putting the workers at risk.
  • In some countries Polystyrene is burnt releasing harmful chemicals into the air
  • Some common estimates are that polystyrene takes up 30% of landfill, with no sun to break it down it will never disappear.

Potato Starch
Some of the looks like polystyrene packing noodles that come thru are actually made from potato starch. Easy way to find out is put some in water and see if they dissolve then they can be added to compost.

Fortunately, Mitre 10 has partnered with EXPOL who recycle it into new polystyrene – a great example of circular economy where the product stays in the system. Better though not to use it in the first place. Let’s plan for a future with no new polystyrene as there are better alternatives.

The polystyrene that can be recycled by Expol is the squished little bead type (EPS). The smooth foam type often used for takeaway containers has to go to landfill – so avoid this.

The partnership encourages customers to recycle EPS polystyrene (whether from Mitre10 Expol or not). EXPOL then repurposes the material into new products including EXPOL Tuff Pods, Quick Drain, Under Floor, Therma Slab Sheet, StyroDrain and Earth Green Beans Bean Bag Fill, which is made of 100% recycled polystyrene. EXPOL diverts over 400 tonnes of polystyrene from landfill each year.

You can either give your polystyrene (Up to 2 full rubbish bags of clean polystyrene: No dirt, food waste or residue, no stickers or tape) directly to Expol or drop it to Mitre10 who have a cube at their stores to drop it in to for free.

Ferrymead – 1005 Ferry Road, Woolston
Hornby – 370 Main South Road, Hornby
Papanui – 54 Harewood Road, Papanui
Rangiora – 1 Southbrook Road, Rangiora 

We’re impressed with Mitre10s sustainability aim and look forward to seeing this in action – they have introduced a comprehensive Sustainable Packaging Guidelines Policy, which all suppliers need to comply with by 2025.  The policy requires the removal of unnecessary packaging and that any remaining is fully recyclable or home compostable in New Zealand.   This will see a further reduction in the use of polystyrene packaging in products they sell.

Further information about this home, builders and commercial service email pickup@expol.co.nz or call 0800 86 33 73. To learn more about how Expol recycles go to

Polystyrene & Plastic Ban
It is also worth noting the government ban on polystyrene food packaging and some plastics. From 1 October 2022 retailers can no longer sell or distribute the targeted polystyrene & plastic items and they can no longer be manufactured. 

  1. Plastic drink stirrers (all plastic types)
  2. Plastic stemmed cotton buds (all plastic types) 
  3. Oxo- and photo- degradable plastic products (subset of plastic type 7) 
  4. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pre-formed food trays and containers (plastic type 3)
  5. Polystyrene takeaway food and beverage packaging, eg some sushi trays and takeaway containers (plastic type 6)
  6. Expanded polystyrene food and beverage packaging, eg foamed cups, bowls, plates, and some grocery products (plastic type 6) 



Rubbish Talk