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What’s the difference between styrene and polystyrene? Although the names sound familiar, styrene and polystyrene are different and have completely different properties.

Styrene is a liquid that can be chemically linked to create polystyrene, a solid plastic that displays different properties. Polystyrene is used to make a variety of consumer products, such as foodservice containers, cushioning for shipping delicate electronics and insulation.

Polystyrene’s safety profile is so strong that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reviewed the safety of polystyrene used in direct contact with foods and beverages – and for 50 years, has confirmed polystyrene to be safe for this use

Two different chemistries


  • The Basics: When styrene molecules are linked together into a polymer, polystyrene is created. Polystyrene is an inert plastic that can be used to make many products, such as disposable plates, cups and other foodservice packaging products.
  • How It’s Used: Polystyrene is used in many applications. One application is foodservice – polystyrene foam is a clean and affordable option to insulate food and to keep it fresher for a longer period of time. Polystyrene foam is a lightweight material, about 95 percent air, with good insulation properties. It is used in many types of products, such as cups that keep your beverages hot or cold. Polystyrene foam also is used in cushioning or protective packaging that helps keep computers and appliances safe during shipping. Many people incorrectly use the name STYROFOAM® to refer to polystyrene in food service; STYROFOAM® is a registered trademark of The Dow Chemical Company that refers to its branded building material products.


  • The Basics: Styrene is a clear, colorless liquid that is a component of materials used to make thousands of everyday products. Styrene occurs naturally in many foods, such as cinnamon, beef, coffee beans, peanuts, wheat, oats, strawberries and peaches. Synthetic styrene, which is chemically identical to naturally occurring styrene, is manufactured as a chemical building block for materials used to make packaging, insulation, automobiles, electronics, boats and recreational vehicles.
  • How It’s Used: For more than 70 years, styrene has been used as a chemical building block to make the materials used in a wide variety of finished consumer products, such as food containers, rubber tires, building insulation, carpet backing and boat hulls, surfboards, residential kitchen countertops, bathtubs and shower enclosures. Styrene is not only polymerized to make polystyrene plastic, but also to make the ABS plastic used in children’s building bricks, and SBR rubber used to make tires, along with many other applications.

For more information on the benefits and safety of polystyrene, click here.

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