Polystyrene is made by stringing together, or polymerising, styrene, a building-block chemical used in the manufacture of many products. Styrene also occurs naturally in foods such as strawberries, cinnamon, coffee and beef.
It is a versatile plastic used in a number of different forms to make a wide variety of consumer products:
- As a hard, solid plastic, it is often used in products that require transparency, such as food packaging and laboratory ware.
- When combined with colourants, additives or other plastics, polystyrene is used to make appliances, electronics, automobile parts, toys, gardening pots and equipment and so on.
- When made into a foam material, called expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS), it is valued for its insulating and cushioning properties. Foam polystyrene can be more than 95 percent air and is widely used to make home and appliance insulation, lightweight protective packaging, surfboards, foodservice and food packaging, automobile parts, roadway and roadbank stabilisation systems and so on.
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