Those difficult-to-recycle polystyrene packaging peanuts are getting an eco-friendly makeover in California.
Starting Jan. 1, all polystyrene loose fill packaging sold in the state must contain at least 60 percent post-consumer recycled material, according to state law AB 3025.
Passed in 2008, the legislation requires the percentage of recycled material in packaging peanuts to increase to 80 percent by 2014 and to 100 percent by 2017.
Californians Against Waste (CAW), an advocacy group that helped to sponsor AB 3025, said many product distributors were already switching to greener packaging late last year in advance of the new regulations.
“This holiday season, we saw a lot less polystyrene and a lot more recycled paper products and air-filled bags,” said CAW Executive Director Mark Murray in a statement. “While the plastic bags are still problematic, they use substantially less energy and take up less space in landfill than the polystyrene peanuts.”
What’s the problem with polystyrene packaging products? In addition to being difficult to recycle and piling up in the landfills, California environmentalists point to its impact on their coastline.
“Expanded foam polystyrene is particularly dangerous because it is light and easily airborne, so it can be quickly transported by wind and rain into the marine environment where it causes irreparable harm to our water quality and our marine life,” Murray said.
But makers of polystyrene products and industry organizations such as the Plastic Loose Fill Council say their products are not as environmentally unfriendly as previously thought.
Because polystyrene peanuts are over 99 percent air, they do not take up an inordinate amount of space in the landfill, the Council says, and there are now over 1,500 U.S. collection sites where peanuts can be dropped off for reuse. The Council also says that manufacturing and transporting polystyrene peanuts is more environmentally friendly than producing paper packaging.