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Polystyrene Beehives – Advantages for Beekeepers

Polystyrene Beehives – Advantages for Beekeepers

The first high density expanded polystyrene beehives were developed by beekeepers in mainland Europe around 30 years ago, since then their use has spread and they now represent a significant proportion of the hives sold on the continent. Their use and popularity in the UK has been limited mainly due the fact that until very recently they were not available in British National sizes. Due to the high cost of the initial tooling, no companies were willing to commit to the cost of full-scale production. A few companies tried unsuccessfully to make polystyrene hives from sheet material, but these were too soft, the bees chewed them and they rarely lasted more than a few seasons. Polystyrene hives need to be made from 100 grammes per litre polystyrene, which is around 10 to 20 times the weight and density of packaging and insulation. The high density of the material, combined with thicker walls makes these hives comparable in weight to a wooden hive, very stable and no more likely than a wooden hive to blow over in high winds.

With the introduction of British National design beehives, it is much easier and cheaper for the beekeeper to switch to or add polystyrene hives to their existing colonies within their apiaries. As they are produced on a production line they are much cheaper than a good quality wooden hive. Unlike a wooden hive they are also completely waterproof, shedding rain on the outside and condensation on the inside helping to keep the bees significantly drier. Wooden hives can saturate from the outside in heavy rain, absorb condensation into the walls or draw up moisture from the ground promoting a damp internal atmosphere, which is bad for the bees, this does not happen with a polystyrene beehive. To give comparable strength, polystyrene hives have significantly thicker walls than their wooden beehive equivalents (over 60mm or 2½”) with a thick insulated roof and deep floor this helps to keep the hives warmer in winter and cooler in summer, meaning the bees need to expend less energy maintaining the correct temperature inside the hive. This makes high density polystyrene hives ideally suited to beekeeping in the damp, rainy and variable temperatures of the maritime British climate.

Polystyrene hives are easy to clean and sterilise by the beekeeper, they can be soaked and scrubbed with a solution of washing soda or sodium hydroxide to remove propolis and wax, then sterilised with household bleach. Unlike wooden hives they are inert and non-porous this isn’t absorbed into the material as it would be with a wooden hive and can be washed off completely leaving the hive clean, sterile and ready for the beekeeper to return bees to it.

Environmentally polystyrene is a sustainable material, it is 100% recyclable, using less resources than recycling paper. In the UK more expanded polystyrene (EPS) is recycled than glass or aluminium and in 2009 33% of all EPS produced was recycled far in excess of the government’s 25.5% target for all plastics. The main problem is access to recycling facilities as councils do not routinely collect it. However, Guernsey has just set up a highly successful scheme to collect waste EPS from homes and businesses, hopefully mainland councils will start similar schemes shortly. In the interim there are recycling points throughout the country where EPS can be taken for recycling. Alternatively EPS can be burnt in an energy from waste plant of which several are being built in the UK. It burns cleanly producing only CO2, water and a trace of ash and has a higher calorific value than coal overall making the plant more efficient.