Polystyrene: everything about Styrofoam!

Styrofoam is a material made of a prominent and very useful type of plastic called polystyrene that is widely used thanks to its various advantages. Styrofoam as a term is actually a nickname that derives from commercial names of certain products that were developed in Israel, and this is one of the materials most familiar to us, and in practice it is a certain type of polystyrene. But in order to “understand” Styrofoam, you should first understand what polystyrene is. In this article we will expand on polystyrene, its properties and its many uses.

What is polystyrene?

Polystyrene is a material that is produced using one of the by-products of oil production. Today there is a wide variety of plastic types , with polystyrene being just one of them. It is possible to obtain different shapes from raw polystyrene for production processes through plastic injection , which is a basic and most common technique in plastic production. Beyond that, polystyrene has several variations, including foamed polystyrene (styrofoam) and polystyrene that is produced using the extrusion technique. The combination of possibilities makes it a very useful material within the production processes of many products, whether they are based solely on polystyrene or partially based on it.

What is expanded polystyrene or by its common name – Styrofoam?

Foamed polystyrene is the product of a special production process, which ends up with a material that is 98% air! This means that there is an excellent combination of light weight and high insulating capacity, all based on the material polystyrene. In Israel this material has gained great popularity as one of the components of various products, such as a heat insulating layer for beverage containers. Styrofoam is a very cheap material and also very convenient to process into different shapes as required.

Polystyrene is generally recyclable. However, like any material it also has certain disadvantages. Styrofoam is a non-degradable material and from an environmental point of view it is not exactly environmentally friendly. Animals may eat it, its crumbs are easily carried by the wind and the material itself floats in water. So without proper treatment of waste from this material, it may spread and be harmful. Also, polystyrene is a relatively flammable material.

The properties of polystyrene

Polystyrene mainly excels in these features:

  • Cheap price – this is a relatively cheap type of plastic to use. Thanks to this, it is very profitable as part of the investment in the production of various products.
  • The hardness of the material – when you think of Styrofoam, you naturally think of a relatively soft and weak material. But ordinary polystyrene can also be rigid. Also, it is considered relatively resistant to blows.
  • Thermal insulation – polystyrene provides good thermal insulation especially in its foamed form (styrofoam).
  • Light weight – low weight, especially when it comes to expanded polystyrene (styrofoam). In many products this aspect is very significant.
  • Liquid resistance – an important feature in many applications.
  • Sterility – polystyrene is a non-toxic material and relatively resistant to bacteria. Thanks to this feature, among other things, it is sometimes used to store food. It is also used to produce plastic cutlery. Another expression of its relative sterility is that it is used in laboratory equipment such as test tubes.
  • Suitable for painting – polystyrene products can be given any color you want. Another option is for the material to be transparent.

What is it used for?

This material has many uses, including:

  • Styrofoam for insulation – as we mentioned, insulation is a very prominent feature of polystyrene, therefore it is used for many purposes that require an insulation layer. Since it is an artificial material (plastic) and flexible in production (in the injection technique and in general), it is easy to create insulation boards from it in any desired shape. This is manifested not only in insulating food and drink for heat, but also in the construction industry as a material to insulate buildings.
  • Styrofoam for product packaging – we all know the situation of opening a carton containing a certain product, when the product is protected by large blocks of styrofoam, which are shaped according to its shape. They provide protection while still being light enough that their weight doesn’t add too much to the overall weight of the box.
  • Wraps – Polystyrene is suitable as a raw material for wraps thanks in part to the ability to recycle it.
  • Food products – for example, yogurt containers.
  • Packaging for optical discs – the transparent packaging in which media such as CDs or DVDs are stored.
  • Disposable razors – for the handles and the edge where the knife is held.

Common questions

Chemically, polystyrene is a polymer based on liquid carbon called styrene. In terms of industrial use and a concise practical definition, it is a common and very useful plastic raw material.

Styrofoam is polystyrene that has undergone a special manufacturing process that incorporates air bubbles. Thanks to this, the styrofoam combines light weight (“light”) and a good ability to retain heat (“cold”).

The best-known use of polystyrene is as an insulating material when it is in its foamed form, but it also has many other uses.

In conclusion

Whether you call it Styrofoam or expanded polystyrene, it is undoubtedly a very useful material. Also, the relationship between this fact and its cheap price, make Styrofoam an excellent option when choosing raw materials for production.

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