Let’s cut to the chase… in the scheme of green living, packing peanuts are best avoided.
Of course, it’s hard to avoid packing peanuts when they tend to enter our homes through online purchases. We’re just the innocent victim in these cases. And if your family is mine, the real joy of packing peanuts comes when your toddlers decide to “make it snow”. Sigh.
Online orders aside, if you are trying to go green, avoid purchasing packing peanuts to protect items during a move and consider other alternatives first.
Old newspapers, rolled up socks and small linens, stuffed toys and other squishy household items can serve as protection for fragile items while packing. (AND you get to pack more of your stuff in one box.. win!)
But if DO find some packing peanuts on your hand, and are in the rare situation where packing peanuts just seem like the best option, here are some quick and simple tips to make your purchase as prudent as possible. (Whoa. I just channeled my inner Captain Turbot there. Shout out to all my paw-some Paw Patrol pals.)
Pay Attention to Packing Peanut Colors
Fun fact: Packing peanuts are color coded, so you can easily identify which ones are more environmentally-friendly!
White – These are traditional packing peanuts, the one most of us see when ordering electronics or glassware. These are made from raw materials (non-recycled) and are NOT biodegradable.
Pink – This color indicates that the materials used to make the packing peanuts are 70% raw. These peanuts are NOT biodegradable and will not break down.
Green – These packing peanuts are the greenest you can get. (They’re green, get it? Har har!) They’re made from 70% recycled materials and ARE biodegradable, so they can break down in the environment. Some green packing peanuts are even plant-based or vegetable-derived, making them home compostable as well. If you’re going to purchase packing peanuts, make sure they’re green!
How to Dispose of Your Packing Peanuts
So you’ve got a mess of packing peanuts on your hands (and if you have toddlers, possibly scattered and crunched around your home). So what now?
Test the Peanuts – The first thing you need to do before you take any further steps is to test the packing peanuts to see what they’re made of. Most have a petroleum base which means they take a long time to break down in the environment and can release toxic substances if dumped into waterways. To test the peanuts, place a few in water or under a running faucet. If the material breaks down, then the peanuts can be put into your compost bin or used in planters to help with water drainage. If the peanuts don’t break down, then you need to…
Make Some Phone Calls – You know the 3 R’s… Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We are on the “Reuse” step. The best bet, and easiest outlet to rid yourself of non-compostable and non-biodegradable packing peanuts, is to call a packing supply company. Some packing and shipping companies, like UPS, will take used (but clean) packing peanuts. You need to call first and ask if they will and if not, where else you can take them. Most shippers are used to dealing with packing peanuts and are a source of information.
If that doesn’t work, you can also try posting an ad on Craigslist, giving them to friends who are moving, or storing them away for another move for reuse yourself. You could also donate them to a school or craft center to see if they could use the packing material for crafts or other projects.
When All Else Fails, Recycle! – Resources for recycling packing peanuts varies by location, so you have to do a bit of homework on this one, and will need to call your local EPS or recycling center. For readers in the US, the EPS provides drop-off locations of where to recycle packing peanuts. They’ll even do mail-back recycling in case you don’t have a local recycling station. Another place to check is Earth911. It’s a great site that will list recycling centers in your area.
For readers living in other countries, check for local recycling centers by doing an online search. Most local governments or city websites will list recycling stations and/or companies that recycle materials for you. Just make sure you call first to ask if they recycle packing peanuts.