How to Recycle Packing Peanuts
The packing peanuts (you may know them as “popcorn”) used to protect shipped materials from damage are made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), which most of us mistakenly confuse with the Dow Chemical Company trademarked name Styrofoam. Unfortunately, you can’t “un-expand” foam plastic, and that limits the recycling market, so reuse or donation are the best options for this material.
Packing Peanut Recycling Preparation
- Separate packing peanuts from everything else in the shipping box, including the cardboard, any paper instructions, plastic bags and other EPS packaging. These other materials have recycling/reuse markets, but you’re not going to find a recycler that will accept them all together.
- Many drop-off sites will only accept white packing peanuts, so you’ll want to separate out any other colors.
- Bag up all your packing peanuts in one container, such as a clear plastic bag.
- If you have room in your house/apartment, store the packing peanuts for reuse when shipping gifts for the holidays or birthdays. There’s no reason to pay for new packing peanuts if you have an abundance of used ones.
- For those looking to dispose of packing peanuts, contact local shipping stores to see if they accept them for reuse. You could also contact schools and churches to see if they can be donated for reuse in art projects.
- While there are EPS recyclers in Earth911’s directory that accept peanuts, there are much fewer of these than shipping stores, so recycling should be seen as a secondary option. You’ll want to call and confirm if there’s a minimum quantity accepted for recycling.
- If you must throw your packing peanuts in the garbage, keep them contained in one bag so they don’t escape from the garbage truck during transportation and become litter.
Why Reuse Packing Peanuts
- Packing peanuts (and other EPS) are among the most common sources of marine debris, where they can be mistaken as food by birds and fish
- Packing peanuts don’t biodegrade, meaning it will take hundreds of years for them to decompose in a landfill
- Recycled EPS can be used to make everything from new EPS to picture frames and rulers
Frequent Packing Peanuts Recycling Questions
The first step for a recycler is to compact all EPS foam together into blocks. Next, it is shredded into pellets. These pellets are then used to create new products, either other forms of EPS like packing peanuts/insulation or products like rulers and picture frames.
- How to Create a Sustainable Shipping Department: If your business frequently ships products, here are some ways to green your process
- Recycling Mystery: Expanded Polystyrene: An overview of recycling options for all EPS plastic
- Styrofoam to Power Biodiesel Engines: Using packing peanuts as an additive in fuel is one of many disposal options