Have you ever experienced sitting on a beanbag and, while you’re thoroughly enjoying its comfort, asking yourself, “Why is it so soft and feel so good?” “How does it follow the shape of my body?” “What’s really inside a bean bag?” The answer is simple: bean bag beans are small balls of polystyrene.
Polystyrene may sound like an alien word for you, but it’s a product of the industrial revolution – designed for packaging, building and insulation purposes . Polystyrene as we know it rose to prominence during the Second World War. Back then, the war (and its carnage on factories) had prevented the production and supply of many essential supplies, including rubber. Scientists and engineers had to fit the function of rubber, and think out of the box to tap into raw materials. They discovered styrene.
Styrene is a by-product of petroleum, which means the raw material for petroleum has to be synthesized first before you can have styrene. Interestingly, it’s also found in certain types of food, especially spice cinnamon.
Styrene was one of the major components in the manufacture of synthetic rubber. Most of all, it’s the foundation of polystyrene.
How It Figured into Beanbags
We aren’t really sure on how someone came up with the idea of putting polystyrene balls into a furniture cover – creating the modern day bean bag in the process….but we can take a pretty good educated guess.
Polystyrene beads or “bean bag beads” were manufactures as in tiny balls so they could be drilled into cavities of hollow walls in a home, then fused so they would be an insulator. Basically they were a cheap way to make your home cooler in summer and warmer in winter. We think that somebody had probably noticed that these large qtys could be transported in large bags (much like rice bags) and that if you sat on one of those bags – it was damn comfortable! A Newton and apple moment for bean bag furniture perhaps?
But based on our research, the earliest knows “beanbag chair” is the Italian Sacco. It was iconic in its day. The Sacco was complemented by a PVC envelope that’s both flexible and transparent – the shape very simple and much like a teardrop. Though a crude form of furniture, the Sacco was high on comfort… but fairly low on style.
Bean bags were therefore an initial flash in the pan – and dismissed as kitch or kids furniture in the 1980’s until many years later Ambient Lounge pioneered the designer bean bag with form, high quality fabrics and the Funnelweb patented system.
So let’s get back to the polystyrene balls we call bean bag beans. Polystyrene comes into two types: foam or rigid. The ones used in beanbags are the foam ones with elasticity and the legendary bouncebackability. That’s why they’re very soft and tend to follow the shape of the body when you sit or lie down on them.
The smaller the beads the better, mainly because they last longer and retain their bounce. Large balls are less dense and while they are comfy at first, they get squashed quickly and lose their sag.. that’s why your bean bag needs “topping up” and is more evident in bean bags with shape.
The rigid ones, on the other hand, are utilized in creating food packages including coffee cups and cheese containers.
What other uses for Polystyrene?
You can actually find Polystyrene everywhere: when you order your cup of latte in a coffee shop, when meals are delivered from your favorite restaurant, in your Esky, under the ground of major building constructions, in boats or when you’re looking for a cheap option for containers and lids for food.
Yup, it’s in high demand in the world of food. Why is this so? First of all, polystyrene is considered very sanitary. In fact, experts find poly styrene products a lot cleaner than reusable utensils, plates, and cups, those that are often rinsed in warm water and dish soap. They prevent the growth of bacteria and harmful microorganisms that can lead to premature spoilage of the food.
They provide excellent insulation. That basically explains why coffee cups and eskys are made from Polystyrene. What’s more, they work just as well when you’re trying to maintain the food’s cold temperature
Polystyrene is a very safe material to use and handle. It doesn’t emit any suspicious gas or chemical when exposed to varying temperatures. It doesn’t require a lot of raw materials to produce, and it can be mass produced so it’s sold at a very affordable price.
Most of all, it’s recyclable, which is also recommended by experts since it doesn’t disintegrate very well over time.
But best of all, you can sit on it!
Well, there ya go. We know it’s not the most exciting subject in the world but bean bag beans are little balls of joy, loved by millions, if not billions of households the world over.
Sitting is believing.