Abstract Nanostructured, photoactive anatase TiO2 sol prepared under very mild conditions using titanium tetraisopropoxide as the precursor is used to functionalise extruded expanded polystyrene (XPS) sheets by spray-coating resulting in stable and active materials functionalised by TiO2 nanoparticles. Photocatalytic tests of these sheets performed in a batch reactor in gas–solid system under UV irradiation show their successful activity in degrading probe molecules (2-propanol, trimethylamine and ethene). Raman spectra ensure the deposition of TiO2 as crystalline anatase phase on the polymer surface. The presence of TiO2 with respect to polymer surface can be observed in SEM images coupled to EDAX mapping allowing to monitor the surface morphology and the distribution of TiO2 particles. Finally thermoforming of these sheets in industrial standard equipment leads to useful containers for foodstuffs.