Most of us mistakenly think that Styrofoam, which is a trademarked name owned by Dow Chemical Company, is the same thing as expanded polystyrene (EPS), which is used to make packing peanuts or “popcorn” to protect items being shipped from damage. Foam plastic can’t be “deflated,” which makes it hard to recycle. The best options for this material are to reuse it or give it away.
Preparing to Recycle Packing Peanuts
- Separate the packing peanuts from everything else in the shipping box, like the cardboard, any paper instructions, plastic bags, and other EPS packaging. There are markets for recycling and reusing these other things, but you won’t find a recycler who will take them all at once.
- Many places that take packing peanuts will only take white ones, so you’ll need to separate the other colors.
- Put all of your packing peanuts in one container, like a clear plastic bag.
If you have room in your house or apartment, save the packing peanuts to use again when sending gifts for the holidays or birthdays. If you already have a lot of used packing peanuts, there’s no reason to buy new ones.
- If you need to get rid of packing peanuts, you can check with local shipping stores to see if they can reuse them. You could also ask schools and churches if they could use them in art projects for free.
- Earth911’s Recycling Search lists EPS recyclers that will take peanuts, but there are far fewer of these than there are shipping stores, so recycling should be seen as a second choice. You should call to find out if there is a minimum amount that can be recycled.
If you have to throw away your packing peanuts, put them all in one bag so they don’t fall out of the garbage truck and end up on the ground.
Why Use Peanuts Again and Again?
- Packing peanuts and other EPS are some of the most common types of trash that end up in the ocean. Birds and fish might mistake them for food.
- Since packing peanuts don’t biodegrade, it will take a landfill hundreds of years to break them down.
- Recycled EPS can be used to make new EPS, picture frames, and rulers, among other things.
Frequently Asked Questions About Recycling Packing Peanuts
1.Can I use my curbside recycling program to get rid of packing peanuts?
Most cities don’t take any kind of expanded polystyrene (EPS) through curbside recycling programs, but you should check in your area. Even if your local program says it takes #6 plastic (EPS is a type of #6 plastic), it will usually not take foam plastics.
2.What’s the difference between Styrofoam and expanded polystyrene?
Styrofoam is a brand name made by the Dow Chemical Company. It is used for coffee cups, coolers, and packaging. EPS is the name for all Styrofoam, but not all EPS is Styrofoam. The biggest difference is that Styrofoam is rough and breaks when folded, while other EPS packaging, like packing peanuts, is softer and can be bent without breaking.
3.Can I make money by reusing packing peanuts?
No. Your best bet is to give packing peanuts to a store that ships packages so they can be used again. You could ask the store for a discount in exchange. Even though it costs less to make new EPS from recycled material than from new material, companies aren’t likely to pay you for your old stuff unless you can give them a truckload.
4.Can I buy packing peanuts made from EPS that has been reused?
Yes, you can find them online. The color of the peanuts shows how much of them are made from recycled materials.
Green peanuts are made of up to 70% recycled materials, but white and pink peanuts are mostly made of new materials.
5.Can I buy packing peanuts that aren’t made of expanded polystyrene (EPS)?
Yes, and a lot of businesses are already using them. Dell ships its products in boxes made from mushrooms, and U-Haul uses peanuts made from corn and potato starch that break down in the environment. But neither of these materials have a market for recycling, so if you don’t compost them, they will end up in a landfill. Modern landfills are made to slow down decomposition as much as possible, so even things that break down naturally will take a very long time.
6.How do you reuse packing peanuts?
First of all, EPS is not “recycled” in the strictest sense. Recycling means turning a product back into its raw materials. Since you can’t make a plastic shrink, you can’t turn EPS back into raw polystyrene. But you can make new things out of used packing peanuts.
The first thing a person who recycles does is pack all the EPS foam into blocks. Then, it is cut up into pellets. Then, these pellets are used to make new things, like packing peanuts and insulation, or other things like rulers and picture frames.
7.Are there any states that make people recycle packing peanuts?
No, but some states, like California, are thinking about passing laws that would ban polystyrene completely. It’s not clear how this would affect companies like Amazon that ship products all over the country.