Packing Peanuts: Beyond the Box

Packing Peanuts Are Not Only For Packing: Repurpose, Reuse, and Recycle!


Packing Peanut Reuse Ideas You just received a box containing a fragile item – perhaps a delicate porcelain figurine, or a wall clock – something that needs lots of protection against bumps and bangs during the shipping process. Clearly the box it came in is much larger than the item. You open the top of the box and find a sea of packing peanuts – small, sometimes curved or “s” shaped little pods that are very helpful in protecting items being shipped or stored.  What are these packing peanuts, and what else can you do with them, besides throwing them away after you unpack your box?

Besides being a package cushioning material,  foam peanuts have lots of other handy uses.  Many DIY-ers and crafts people have found inventive and practical ways to use the little pods.

For example, from a practical point of view, you can cover tips of sharp pointed tools with a foam peanut to protect your fingers when poking around in a tool box or drawer.  They can be used as spacers to protect walls from the edges of mirrors or picture frames.  Gardeners may find them useful to put at the bottom of large planters as they will increase drainage without adding weight.

Certainly children love to play with packing peanuts. The Facebook Page “Awesome Uses for Packing Peanuts” has some cute examples of children and pets having fun with these.  Preschoolers can add the peanuts to art projects – make a snake with green ones, or add wool to a picture of a lamb with the white ones.  The biodegradable peanuts become sticky when moistened, and are then easy to form into little sculptures or ornaments.

Packing peanuts, also called foam peanuts, loose fill, or packing noodles are a cushioning packing material.  The original packing peanuts were invented by the Dow Chemical Company in the mid 1960s, and were made from virgin polystyrene foam, a by-product of petroleum processing.  Since the 1990’s,  packing peanuts made from recycled polystyrene have been available.  White foam peanuts generally indicate that the material is 70% or more virgin polystyrene, while green peanuts are often 70% or more recycled polystyrene.  Pink foam peanuts indicate that an anti-static material has been applied to them . The peanuts themselves are 99.6% air and can interlock when stressed, but move freely when the stress is removed.

Foam peanuts are lightweight, low-cost, and versatile, fitting into and around objects of many shapes and sizes. They are easy to use, and can be reused multiple times without losing their cushioning capability.  The various shapes of the peanut itself indicate specific manufacturers.

While the packing peanuts can be reused, the material they are made from is very slow to biodegrade, and disposal of the polystyrene is a long-term environmental issue.  The Loose Fill Council, founded in 1991, works with the plastics industry “… to develop, promote and implement the original use and subsequent recovery, reuse and recycling of polystyrene loose fill,…” and it maintains both a phone consumer hotline and website directory of places where the foam peanuts can be recycled.  If you have an excess of packing peanuts that you want to recycle, check out their website.

As a result of environmental awareness, biodegradable packing peanuts made from natural materials such as corn starch have been available since the 1990s. These packing peanuts perform as well as protective material, and in some cases better, than petroleum based products.

The next time you get a box full of packaging peanuts, don’t throw it away – reuse , repurpose or recycle it!

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