The polystyrene used to manufacture beehives is fundamentally the same as any other expanded polystyrene material in use today. The difference being the material used for beehives is a much higher density making it stronger, tougher and heavier. The typical density of a polystyrene beehive is around one hundred grammes per litre, around twice that of motorcycle helmet lining, and ten to twenty times that of packaging material.
The majority of people only ever encounter polystyrene as a packaging material, low density soft polystyrene, that has been moulded into shapes and used to protect valuable of easily damaged goods during storage and transport. For individual consumer this does not happen regularly and for a beekeeper, using a high density expanded polystyrene beehive, the long life expectancy, if it is well-treated means that recycling often is not a consideration.
However, expanded polystyrene is 100% recyclable, depending on its previous use and cleanliness it can be either recycled into completely new expanded polystyrene products, or used to make slate alternative roofing tiles, or hardwood substitute products such as garden furniture that will not rot. In fact in the UK 33% of all expanded polystyrene manufactured is recycled, this is a much higher level than both aluminium and glass. Recycling expanded polystyrene is a relatively energy efficient process, using less resources in terms of energy and water than recycling paper.
The main problem with recycling for the average consumer and the beekeeper using polystyrene beehives is the lack of kerbside recycling facilities. The ability to easily recycle household waste has grown considerably over the last few years, with more and more of our everyday rubbish changing from landfill to recyclable items. Polystyrene is no different, Guernsey is the first local council to set up kerbside collection for expanded polystyrene from both homes and businesses, and their pilot scheme has been highly successful. In the interim period a number of the polystyrene manufacturing companies have set up collection points to serve their local communities and help recycle this valuable product.
If for whatever reason the polystyrene from packaging, from insulation or a beehive is unable to be recycled it can be burnt in an energy from waste plant, of which several are being built in the UK at the moment, or burnt in an incinerator. Contrary to popular belief when polystyrene is burnt in these facilities it burns completely cleanly giving off only carbon dioxide, water and a trace of ash making it considerably less polluting than burning an equivalent wooden beehive. The energy density of polystyrene is higher than that of coal and it is therefore a valuable asset within these facilities, the high density of the polystyrene used in beehives makes them even more valuable. When burnt as part of a mixed waste stream it helps to raise the temperature of the furnaces making them more efficient reducing the need for other energy sources.
The final and least preferred option for polystyrene is for it to be sent to landfill. Unlike the majority of other items disposed of through this method polystyrene is completely inert, there are no chemicals to leach out of the material, and it does not decompose or give off any gasses. However, waste expanded polystyrene is a valuable asset and therefore it is far better to recycle it.
The manufacturing of polystyrene beehives is also environmentally sound. The designs are optimised using computer aided design to reduce any waste material. Unlike a wooden beehive there is minimal waste from the manufacturing process, there are no waste off cuts, no carcinogenic wood sawdust and no shavings or removed material to be disposed of. The high-density expanded polystyrene beads are moulded directly into the final shape of the beehive and then fused together using only steam and pressure and no CFCs are used within the expansion of the beads.