Packing peanuts, made of expanded polystyrene, also known as EPS or plastic #6, keep shipped items from shifting and breaking, but send well-intentioned recyclers into a tizzy perhaps more than any other material. EPS is as recyclable as any other plastic, but due to the lightweight nature of the material and the expensive cost to transport and process for recycling, finding a local solution can prove to be difficult.
Frequent Packing Peanut Recycling Questions
What are packing peanuts made of?
Packing peanuts are made of expanded polystyrene, also known as EPS or plastic #6.
Can you recycle packing peanuts?
EPS (expanded polystyrene) is recyclable, but most curbside programs do not accept the material and you may have limited recycling options locally. Keep in mind that even if your community recycles plastic #6, it may not accept EPS.
If you don’t have access to a curbside or drop-off recycling option in your neighborhood, you can also use a mail-back program such as the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers. Since EPS is extremely lightweight, it can be economically shipped to a regional collection location, but in most cases reuse is your best disposal bet for those old peanuts.
Can packing peanuts be reused?
Yes. The simplest way to reuse packing peanuts is in another package you need to ship. You can also donate them to UPS or other shipping stores, who will gladly reuse the material.
Are there more sustainable packing alternatives?
Biodegradable packing materials offer a low-waste alternative to polystyrene packing peanuts. High-profile companies, including Dell and furniture-maker Steelcase, have already embraced a foam-like packaging made from mushrooms, eliminating the waste from polystyrene.
When shipping packages yourself, simply use paper from your recycling bin to insulate breakables rather than reaching for polystyrene peanuts. Crumpled newsprint, junk mail and other waste paper will do the job just as well and will be far easier for your recipient to recycle.
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