What is Polystyrene?

What is Polystyrene?

We have been covering many different types of plastic over the last few weeks. Poly-this and poly-that; it all sounds the same, but all of these plastics are very different but have unique qualities that make them useful.

Polystyrene is another commonly used type of plastic, infamous for its use in making Styrofoam. It is defined as a synthetic polymer made from styrene that is special because it can be solid or foamed. Because polystyrene is a thermoplastic polymer, it can be made into a glass-type material by heating the plastic over 200 °F.

When was Polystyrene Discovered?

This type of plastic has been around since 1839 when it was discovered by an apothecary Eduard Simon in Berlin, Germany. We did not learn about polystyrene’s special ability to be made into foam until 1941 when Dow Chemical invented a Styrofoam process.

In 1954, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam was developed by the Koppers Company in Pittsburg.

In 1960, the Dart Container Company produced and shipped its first order of Styrofoam cups.

How are Polystyrene Products Made?

What starts as a very small polystyrene plastic bead eventually expands, through a steaming process, into a more mold-able pellet. Pellets are significantly larger than the small beads they started as, and are bagged for later use. Thousand of pellets are condensed into a specific, dense mold, depending on the shape desired. These products can be denser based on the number of pellets condensed into one mold.

What are the Benefits of Polystyrene?

  • Inexpensive
  • Relatively strong
  • Can be made into Styrofoam and several other forms
  • Recyclable
  • Cost-effective
  • Sterile
  • Moisture-resistant
  • Lighter weight
  • Versatile and easy to handle
  • Visually appealing
  • Protective
  • Originally clear, and can have color added

What is Polystyrene Used For?

  • Packaging
    • Packing peanuts
    • Clamshell containers
  • CD/DVD cases
  • Lids
  • Bottles
  • Disposable cutlery
  • Disposable razors
  • Building insulation
  • Smoke detectors
  • License plate frames
  • Shelving
  • Surfboards
  • Bean bags
  • Outdoor seating
  • Child car seats
  • Wheelchair components
  • Horse saddles
  • Helmets

Other Inventions & Events around Polystyrene’s Discovery (1839)

  • 1827: Invention of matches
  • 1830: The Book of Mormon is published
  • 1830: Invention of the lawnmower
  • 1833: Invention of the lock stitch sewing machine
  • 1834: Invention of the mechanical reaper
  • 1837: Invention of the steel plow
  • 1837: Queen Victoria ascends the throne
  • 1837: Michigan becomes America’s 26th state
  • 1838: Steamboats first begin to cross the Atlantic
  • 1839: Invention of the bicycle
  • 1839: Invention of vulcanized rubber

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