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Are Packing Peanuts Recyclable

Are Packing Peanuts Recyclable

Source: B. Melo/Shutterstock.com

A quick search of the Guinness World Records website reveals that almost 5,000 people are recognized as being the “largest collectors” of some off-the-wall items. If you’re looking to snag the record for the largest collection of talking clocks or bobbleheads, you’re going to have to receive a lot of packages. After all, your neighborhood antique store isn’t going to have a large selection of coprolites.

After opening over 4,000 boxes of snow globes, you’ll likely have a lot of packing peanuts on your hands. We have all the answers if you’re wondering are packing peanuts recyclable or should you throw them in your Simplehuman garbage bags?

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What Are Packing Peanuts Made Of?

Packing peanuts exploded onto the shipping scene way back in 1965. Since that initial eruption of the cushiony filling, packing peanuts have clung to our hair and made a general mess wherever we tear open shipping boxes. That’s because packing peanuts were initially made of polystyrene, a foam material prone to generating static electricity.

We know polystyrene more commonly as Styrofoam. And Styrofoam has several characteristics that make it great for shipping fragile items.

Packing peanuts are 95 percent air by volume. That makes them lightweight, inexpensive to ship and very effective at absorbing shock of bouncy roads or clumsy delivery personnel. Owing to their small size, packing peanuts will adjust and fill in air gaps to further prevent damage to a package’s contents.

Environmental Impact of Packing Peanuts

The qualities that make packing peanuts great for shipping fragile items also make them hazardous to the environment.

Styrofoam is technically recyclable, but it isn’t very cost-effective to do so. Because packing peanuts are filled with air, they take up a lot of space in trucks. Recyclers would need to spend a lot to transport packing peanuts. And owing to their small lightweight size, packing peanuts would make a mess in the recycling facility the same way they do your living room.

And, of course, since polystyrene is a type of plastic, sending packing peanuts to the landfill isn’t good either. Also, birds may mistake the small, white bits for food.

Because recycling facilities often don’t exist and they usually end up in landfills, some state governments are hastening the end of Styrofoam packing peanuts. New York recently passed a law banning single-use containers and packing peanuts made of Styrofoam.

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a close up of a box with yellow packing peanuts

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Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Polystyrene

Luckily, there are many effective, eco-friendly alternatives to polystyrene packing peanuts. The most common of these alternatives is plant-based, biodegradable packing peanuts.

  • Biodegradable packing peanuts are made from wheat or corn starch. A greener choice, biodegradable packing peanuts can even go in your compost bin.
  • Biodegradable packing peanuts are more expensive and a little heavier than Styrofoam packing peanuts. And that’s why you still see destructive polystyrene packing peanuts. But how can you tell the difference?
  • White, pink or green peanuts are usually polystyrene.
  • Biodegradable peanuts are usually off-white.
  • Place some peanuts under running water. Plant-based peanuts will begin to dissolve within minutes.

a box of packing peanuts spilling onto a floor

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How to Dispose of Packing Peanuts

Disposing of Biodegradable Packing Peanuts

You can put biodegradable packing peanuts in your compost bin. Or you can just run them under water and let them dissolve. You can also safely throw your biodegradable packing peanuts in the garbage.

Disposing of Polystyrene Packing Peanuts

Fortunately, there are alternatives to sending your packing peanuts to the landfill.

  • Check your recycling facility’s website to see if they’ll recycle packing peanuts. The plastic recycling code for packing peanuts is #6.
  • Search Earth911’s database of recyclers. Even if your local recycling facility doesn’t recycle packing peanuts, there still may be options near you. Earth911 maintains a database of recyclers for various materials.
  • Take your packing peanuts to a local shipping store. Participating UPS and Pak Mail locations will accept used packing peanuts for reuse.
  • Ask your friends. You may also have friends who operate online stores on Etsy or Ebay. They would likely reuse your packing peanuts for their shipments to customers.
  • Donate your packing peanuts. You can also call your local elementary school to find out if they have craft uses for packing peanuts.

Be Green When Disposing of Packing Peanuts

It’ll cost you a pretty penny to assemble the largest collection of brandy. But acquiring your assortment shouldn’t cost the planet. When you receive those dreaded polystyrene packing peanuts, don’t throw them in a garbage bag.

If you aren’t willing to send your collection of packing peanuts to someone who will reuse them, then consider earning your spot in the Guinness World Records collecting something closer to home like peach pits. Simply eat 5,448 peaches and you’re in.

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