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13 Reasons You Should Switch to Biodegradable Packing Peanuts (+Disposal Methods)

Title and logo on top of image of boxes with packing peanuts bursting out

Traditionally, packing peanuts have been made from expanded polystyrene foam, also known as Styrofoam, but due to the environmental hazards of Styrofoam, there has been an industry shift to use biodegradable packing peanuts as a more environmentally friendly option.

The move to create eco-friendly packaging has provided innovations that have helped customers move away from Styrofoam in order to take advantage of these advances in biodegradable peanuts.

Here are some reasons you should move away from polystyrene peanuts to some of these eco-friendly alternatives.

Benefits of Biodegradable Packing Peanuts:

  1. Made from all natural sources: Starch based packing peanuts are made from plants such as corn, wheat, potato, and sometimes mushrooms, whereas traditional polystyrene packing peanuts are made from petroleum.
  2. Non-toxic: While no one is recommending humans eat packing peanuts since they are not produced as food grade items, they are technically made from plant-based products. This means they are non-toxic and safe in case kids or pets accidentally eat them. This also means animals or birds that might try to eat them from the garbage or landfill will not be consuming plastics. A common concern is that using these as a packaging material could attract rodents and pests, but since the sugar component is removed from the starch material, it is unlikely to be an issue.
kitten in a box batting at biodegradable packing peanuts
  1. Easy to identify: Many companies use a color coding system to indicated if their peanuts are virgin polystyrene, made from recycled plastics, or biodegradable. Starch-based packing peanuts are typically an off-white color, but not always. The best way to test if peanuts are biodegradable is to run them under water. Biodegradable packing peanuts dissolve in water in a matter of minutes.
  2. Compostable: While you aren’t able to recycle any packing peanuts, you are able to compost biodegradable peanuts in your home compost. If your municipality runs an organics program, you can check to see if they accept this item along with other food and organic waste.
compost with biodegradable packing peanuts added
  1. Uses less carbon emission to produce: This type of loose fill uses less energy and produces less carbon emissions that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions than the production of Styrofoam peanuts. One study estimates that using corn-based bioplastics can reduce GHG emissions by 25%.
  2. Anti-static: Some items, such as certain electronics, require static-free packaging for shipping. Biodegradable packing peanuts are perfect for this kind of shipping item. This means they also do not stick to your clothes.
  3. Produced with waste products: Some companies are trying to solve the issue of diverting food to plastics production by creating a more circular economy model. Bioplastic producers, such as Full Circle, are using food byproducts to create bioplastics instead of using new crops. This means the materials used to produce the packing were planned to be discarded. Another company, Mango Materials, is using waste biogas as a way to produce bioplastics. By switching to bioplastic packaging products, you may be helping to repurpose waste into the production of a new product, creating a circular economy.
person pouring packing peanuts into another box to reuse them.
  1. Reusable: While this is true for both biodegradable or Styrofoam loose fill, it is worth mentioning that packing peanuts are able to be reused again and again.
  2. Stronger than polystyrene: Styrofoam loose fill tends to snap under pressure, but biodegradable peanuts have proven to be more resilient in crush tests.

Pitfalls of Styrofoam Packing Peanuts:

Air pollution from manufacturing plant chimneys.
  1. Traditional Styrofoam peanuts do not break down in landfills: Since they are made from expanded polystyrene, they fall into the large category of plastics that are estimated to take more than 500 years to break down. Styrofoam products are designed specifically to be durable in order to protect what is around them, but this durability is exactly what makes them problematic at their end of life.
  2. Traditional foam peanuts are difficult to recycle: Styrofoam in general is not accepted in many locations for recycling, and even when it is, foam peanuts are usually not allowed. Foam peanuts have two strikes against them, due to their static nature, they are difficult to control, and recycling facilities usually have a hard time with small items that get lost or caught in sorting machines.
  3. Styrofoam packing peanuts are harmful to production workers: Producing expanded polystyrene can often create hazardous conditions for the workers in those factories. It has been documented that the production of polystyrene can cause carcinogenic fumes that could be harmful to the workers producing those products. Since biodegradable products use non-toxic, plant-based materials, they do not produce harmful byproducts while being produced.
  4. Expanded Polystyrene foam is harmful to the environment: Whether it’s packing peanuts or Styrofoam cups, any product made from expanded polystyrene is not eco-friendly. The EPA has deemed the manufacturing process of polystyrene to produce hazardous waste for over three decades.

Sustainable Solutions

Biodegradable packing peanuts are an overall more sustainable solution for loose fill. When shipping items, it’s always important to look for all the most eco-friendly options.

Traditional Styrofoam packing peanuts are almost never accepted in curbside recycling, making them a difficult product to deal with for disposal. Occasionally municipalities will offer a Styrofoam drop-off program, but due to their static nature, packing peanuts are not usually included in this type of recycling.

Finding alternatives that are more eco-friendly seems to be the only option when dealing with packing peanuts. Biodegradable packing peanuts are the logical solution to combat the plastic waste issues associated with loose fill polystyrene packing peanuts.

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