Are Packing Peanuts Recyclable? Are They An Eco-Friendly Option?

Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Feb 29, 2024 By Rajnandini Roychoudhury
Originally Published on Oct 23, 2021
A large box of styrofoam packing peanuts.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 5.5 Min

Biodegradable starch-based packing peanuts are recyclable, but the methods of making them may not be simple.

Since the older versions of packing peanuts were non-biodegradable, disposing of them meant posing a major threat to the environment. However, modern technology has made it possible to decompose and recycle them in an eco-friendly manner.

With the advent of the global market, a massive number of products are shipped all over the world each day. In this regard, packing peanuts entered the shipping business several years ago, which are used to deliver fragile and delicate products in undamaged condition. However, as people's awareness of their environment increased, they became more concerned about its well-being. Hence, packing peanuts went out of fashion and has been reduced to being the last option for the shipping business today. This is because the traditional peanuts were not biodegradable, and their disposal posed a major threat to the environment. Nonetheless, biodegradable packing peanuts are being manufactured that require added finesse for disposal. You could reuse the peanuts multiple times like a plastic bag to dump garbage and waste materials without disposing of them in the open to reduce pollution.

Keep reading to discover various facts about packing peanuts! You can also check out how is paper made? Andhow is plywood made? To discover interesting facts about them.

A Guide To Know Whether Styrofoam Packing Peanuts Are Recyclable

Our planet's well-being has been subjected to various threats by many companies like Styrofoam that produce hard plastic-like EPS for packaging goods before shipping. After shipping, the EPS packing peanuts that are dumped in landfills do not biodegrade naturally since they are a type of plastic. It either ends up littered on streets or dumped in landfill sites that take years to biodegrade.

It is necessary for us to know whether Styrofoam packing peanuts are recyclable to reduce the level of harm they can cause to the planet when they are disposed of. The EPS peanuts are not accepted by many environmentalists or drop-off sites so, the shipping companies take them back to reuse. However, there is no foolproof way to recycle Styrofoam, and the process isn't very simple since EPS cannot be converted into raw polystyrene. Several recycling programs have tried but failed while recycling these peanuts. However, you can place the packing peanuts under running water to know if they are biodegradable. Starch-based packing peanuts, which are biodegradable, will dissolve in water, but traditional Styrofoam will not. Read on to find out more about packing peanuts and how to recycle them.

Identifying Recyclable Packing Peanuts

Packing peanuts are used for packaging goods in numerous shipping companies. A material known as polystyrene is used to make these peanuts. These plastic pieces are named so because they resemble an unshelled peanut. These peanuts are generally 2-3 in (5.1-7.6 cm) long.

A popular brand, Styrofoam, manufactures polystyrene, which is a type of hard plastic or foam commonly used for packing delicate and fragile products such as electronic goods, glassware, and so on. Air-filled polystyrene peanuts are known as expanded polystyrene or EPS. Goods are placed into such plastic packets for delivery. They are extremely lightweight, which makes them easier to use. Numerous consumer products such as toys, food containers, bottles, etc., are also made using EPS. Peanuts are available in different shapes and colors depending upon the level of recyclability and what they are made of. 70% recycled polystyrene is used for making the green peanuts, the white peanuts are made up of 70% virgin resin, and an antistatic agent is used for preparing the pink ones. Since packing peanuts are basically a type of plastic, they do not biodegrade. Therefore, dumping them in landfill sites or burning them may not be sensible. For this reason, you can opt for simple recycling or reuse options to make use of these peanuts that will reduce the chance of harming the environment.

Top view of biodegradable packing peanuts.

How Recyclable Packing Peanuts Are Made

After facing backlashes for using polystyrene, Styrofoam shifted to using starch to make packing peanuts. These revised packing peanuts are biodegradable as starches of wheat or corn are used in making them.

A well-known sign to know which packing peanuts are biodegradable is to see if they dissolve in water. Even recycling plants will not be able to break down peanuts manufactured by Styrofoam into raw material. Many companies do not accept these peanuts, compelling the shipping industry to make peanuts using starch that is biodegradable. These nontoxic sources are compostable as well, which will work as nutrients for the soil. However, it’s best to refrain from consuming them and must be kept away from the reach of children or animals. This material is equally lightweight and can carry out the same task as the standard Styrofoam, which is extremely toxic and harmful for the earth. Unlike conventional packing peanuts that take up a lot of space for being non-biodegradable, recyclable peanuts can be easily decomposed at home in your garden or backyard.

Steps To Dispose Of Or Recycle Packing Peanuts

Although EPS cannot be recycled in the true sense of the word since it is a 6th-grade foam material, there are several ways that you can opt to store or dispose of the packing peanuts. The best way, however, is to not treat them as waste but reuse them in any possible way. Many local shipping stores accept peanuts for reusing them.

After delivery of the products, the peanuts have to be separated from all the other packaging materials found in the delivery box like paper, plastic wrap, etc. Then, these materials are put together in a plastic bag and taken to a recycling center. You can store the remaining packing peanuts in a box that can be reused in the future. You can also contact a recycling company to recycle them. You could call the local curbside recycling program center, however, most of these programs do not accept EPS. If you want to dump the EPS foam in the garbage, you must save all the packing peanuts together and drop them in a nearby landfill. Packing peanuts must never be thrown in the ocean as fish may mistake it as food. Again, the EPS material can be melted down to make new products like toys, food containers, and other packing materials. Each of us must take responsibility to keep the earth clean and green for a better and sustainable future.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for are packing peanuts recyclable? Then why not take a look at how is a metal made? Or how is cardboard made?

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Written by Rajnandini Roychoudhury

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

Rajnandini Roychoudhury picture

Rajnandini RoychoudhuryBachelor of Arts specializing in English, Master of Arts specializing in English

With a Master of Arts in English, Rajnandini has pursued her passion for the arts and has become an experienced content writer. She has worked with companies such as Writer's Zone and has had her writing skills recognized by publications such as The Telegraph. Rajnandini is also trilingual and enjoys various hobbies such as music, movies, travel, philanthropy, writing her blog, and reading classic British literature. 

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