Packing peanuts (also known as packing materials, cushioning, foam peanuts, packing pellets, shipping popcorn and shipping peanuts) are used to fill the gaps inside packages so that items will not be damaged in shipment and moving. They are shaped to fit together when they’re compressed and separate when they aren’t.
Composed of polystyrene — more familiarly known as Styrofoam — these packing materials are very durable and can take a long time to decompose when disposed of. As a result, new types of shipping materials have been developed which are biodegradable.
Polystyrene packing peanuts were first introduced in 1965 and have been widely used ever since. They’re about the size and appearance of an unshelled peanut.
Because they are durable, they can be used repeatedly. Even after repeated use, there’s little to no reduction in the ability of the peanuts to protect the product in the box.
They can also be recycled at shipping stores around the country. Shipping stores are a great place to check first when you need to get packing peanuts.
They are Versatile
Packing peanuts come in many shapes and sizes. Some are round; others are square, triangular, oval, rectangular, hexagonal or octagonal. Their dimensions vary too. For example, some are only one inch thick while others may reach up to three inches.
Packing peanuts are available in various densities. The density refers to how much air space there is between each piece. A low-density packing peanut has less air space than a high-density packing peanut.
There are two main types of packing peanuts:
Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) – EPS packing peanuts are the traditional and most commonly used packing peanuts. They are manufactured by heating and expanding a bead of styrene monomer until it becomes solid.
Then, the beads are fused together using heat and pressure to form a continuous sheet. The sheet is then cut into small pieces and formed into the desired shape.
EPS packing peanuts are typically sold in four different densities: Low Density (LD), Medium Density (MD), High Density (HD) and Extra High Density (XHD). LD packing peanuts weigh approximately 8 ounces per cubic foot, MD packing peanuts weigh approximately 12 ounces per cubic foot, HD packing peanuts weigh approximately 16 ounces per cubic foot and XHD packing peanuts weigh approximately 24 ounces per cubic foot.
Cellulose Acetate Butyrate (CAB) – CAB packing peanuts are made from cellulose acetate butyrate, a biodegradable plastic. They are usually white in color with a transparent window on one side.
Like EPS packing peanuts, CAB packing peanuts are available in different densities. However, unlike EPS packing peanuts, CBA packing peanuts do not contain any styrene monomers.
Instead, they are produced by mixing cellulose acetate fibers with butyric acid. The mixture is then melted and molded into sheets. These sheets are then cut into pieces and formed into the required shape. The first biodegradable packing material to look like “peanuts” goes by the tradename of Biofoam and is made from sorghum.
The manufacturing process for packing peanuts begins with the production of a bead of styrene. Styrene is an organic compound that consists of carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen and oxygen atoms. It’s a clear liquid at room temperature. When heated, styrene polymerizes into a hard, brittle material called “polymer.” After being heated, the styrene is mixed with other chemicals and compressed under high pressure. This forms a sheet of polystyrene. The sheet is then sliced into small pieces and shaped into the desired size and shape. This process causes them to expand to several times their original volume. Finally, the packing peanuts are coated with a thin layer of adhesive. Once cooled, the packing peanuts are ready to use.
Packing peanuts are primarily used as filler inside packaging items such as boxes, crates, cartons, pallets, etc. They are often placed inside these containers to cushion the contents and prevent damage during shipment. Packing peanuts are also used to protect products from moisture and dust. In addition, they’re sometimes used to create a decorative effect.
What Stores Carry Packing Peanuts
Most stores carry packing peanuts in bulk quantities. Some stores may even offer discounts if you buy large amounts of packing peanuts.
If you don’t see packing peanuts in your local store, you might want to check out online retailers. Many online retailers sell packing peanuts in bulk and offer discounts. Amazon has a good selection.
Where to Get Free and Low Cost Packing Peanuts
If you want free packing peanuts, there are many places where you might find them. Some stores will give away free packing peanuts when you purchase something else from them. Other stores might give you free packing peanuts just so they don’t have to deal with them from their incoming container supplies.
Check with Vitamin Stores, Optical Shops, Pier One, Home Goods, Furniture Stores, Smoke Shops
These shops receive their delicate shipments packed in cartons with packing peanuts used for cushioning. Once the packages are opened, these stores have to figure out a way to discard the packing materials.
Check with the store manager (or assistant manager). You might get lucky and pick up the supplies you need right away. You’ll probably have to check back often, so you can grab those shipping materials right after the moment their shipments are delivered.
You can call them to ask to save it for you — or check their dumpsters. You may find packing materials, bubble wrap and boxes that they’re throwing away. You’d be amazed at the things people throw out.
Check Craigslist.org and Facebook Marketplace
People often try to get rid of packing materials for free on Craigslist and Facebook marketplace. It’s a way for people to recycle the packing materials and protect the environment.
Freecycle is an international website that allows people to post items for free. It’s similar to Craigslist.org but instead of posting items for sale, users post items for free.
It’s an interesting concept. On Freecycle.org, people give away the items they no longer need, and then get the items they do need. The basic rule is: whatever you give away must be completely free, and you can not take anything from people without giving something back.
It’s not uncommon for someone to have extra packing peanuts lying around. It’s a great opportunity.
Ask Your Neighbors
Your neighbors may have extra packing peanuts. Especially anyone that has recently moved. Ask them if you can use them.
Free Packing Peanuts From Shipping Companies
This one can be hit or miss. Some companies offer free packing peanuts as part of a promotion. For example, UPS may run an in store promo offering free packing peanuts with your next package delivery. You just have to catch it at the right time. FedEx might give out free packing peanuts with each package it delivers.
Even if you track down packing materials for free, you still need to know that it will take some of your own valuable time to do this.
It might be worth it to spend your time to get packing materials free. It can sometimes be difficult to determine the value of your time, especially when you’re days away from a move.
One way to look at it is this… is it worth trimming down your moving costs if you’re on a tight budget and you’ve already spent a lot on the move? For many people, the answer is Yes.
Let’s say you want to move into a 2-bedroom home. You could spend anywhere between $150-$300 for new packing supplies. If you save a good chunk of that just by doing some simple asking around, it could well be worth your time.
How to Make Your Own Packing Materials
You don’t need any special equipment to make your own packing materials. All you need is a pair of scissors and a few sheets of newspaper.
First, cut up a piece of newspaper into strips. Next, fold the paper in half lengthwise. Cut along one side of the folded paper to form two triangles. Fold the triangle in half so that it resembles a rectangle. Now, unfold the paper and open it back up again.
Repeat this step until you’ve created a stack of rectangles. Place the stack of rectangles inside another piece of newspaper. Roll the entire thing tightly to create a ball.
Continue rolling the balls until you reach the desired size.
How to Test for Biodegradable Packing Materials
If you’re not sure whether something can be recycled, just take a quick look at it. If that is not effective, there is a foolproof method for determining if a material is eco-friendly.
To test whether plastic packaging materials are biodegradable, run them under running water. Organic compounds break down into biodegradable substances when they come into contact with moisture.It only requires a few minutes for the material to be completely dissolved.
12 Ways to Reuse Packing Peanuts
Recycling is important because it helps keep our environment clean. There are many ways to recycle packing peanuts. Here are 12 great ideas:
1. Use packing peanuts to line trash cans.
2. Use packing peanuts to cover furniture legs so that people and kids don’t bump into them.
3. Use packing peanuts to protect books from dust during storage.
4. Use packing peanuts to cushion items during storage.
5. Use packing peanuts to fill gaps between shelves.
6. Use packing peanuts to prevent books from falling off bookcases. They provide shock-absorbing protection for your belongings, keeping them safe from falls and impacts.
7. Use packing peanuts to hold together boxes. Fill empty spaces in the boxes to prevent shifting.
8. Use packing peanuts to secure loose papers.
9. Use packing peanuts to separate layers of newspapers.
10. Use packing peanuts to wrap gifts. Fill a box with the packing peanuts around the gift to prevent vibrations to the gift.
11. Use packing peanuts to stuff pillows.
12. Use packing peanuts to pack small items like jewelry or coins.
12. Use packing peanuts inside gift bags to protect gifts.
Because newer packing peanuts are made from recycled materials, they can be considered environmentally friendly. Recycled packing peanuts are generally accepted by recycling programs because they have similar properties to virgin packing peanuts.
Packing Materials Facts
Packing peanuts come in different sizes and shapes. They’re usually sold by weight rather than by number.
Packing peanuts are made from recycled materials. In fact, they contain less plastic than regular trash bags.
You can put packing peanuts in a cooler with cold cans instead of using ice. The packing peanuts will insulate the cooler and keep the cans cold.
Packing peanuts aren’t just for packaging products. They also help keep furniture dry during transit.
Packing peanuts can be used at the bottom of a planter to help draining for potted plants.
You can refill flat bean bag chairs with packing peanuts to give the chair a new lift.
If you’re looking for an easy way to recycle packing materials, consider re-using packing peanuts instead of throwing them away.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Eat Biodegradable Packing Peanuts?
No. Even though they are called “edible” and nontoxic packing peanuts, they are not produced in a food processing facility. If people or pets do eat some, it should be safe. There’s no nutritional value and you just don’t want that to become a habit. The best thing to do with packing peanuts is to throw them out. However, some people use them as mulch around plants.
Why Do They Call Them Packing Peanuts?
They call them packing peanuts because of the similarity of the shape to a peanut. They interlock nicely and a’re designed to fit inside boxes and other containers.
Are Packing Peanuts Still Used?
Yes. Packaging companies still use packing peanuts today. They’re often used to package small items such as jewelry, toys, and electronics.
What Are the Best Types of Packing Peanuts?
There’s no single type of packing peanut. There are many types available. For example, there are round packing peanuts, square packing peanuts, and even triangular packing peanuts. Some packing peanuts are made from natural fibers such as jute and cotton. Others are made from synthetic fibers like polypropylene.
How Do I Make My Own Packing Peanuts?
You don’t need any special tools to make your own packing peanut. All you need is scissors and a couple of pieces of newspaper. First, tear up a sheet of newspaper into strips. Then, fold the paper in thirds lengthwise. Open the paper up again. Repeat this process until you’ve created a pile of rectangles. Finally, roll the rectangles together to create a ball .
How Much Does It Cost To Use Packing Peanuts? How Long Will They Last?
You’ll pay about $1 per pound for packing peanuts. That means you could buy enough packing peanuts to wrap all of your items for about $10. Once you open the package, however, you won’t need to buy more. Packaging peanuts last for years.
What Locales Are Styrofoam Packing Materials Banned?
The traditional packing materials were made of styrofoam. Styrofoam is considered to be a major contributor to environmental litter and could harm wildlife. Styrofoam is banned in some towns and counties and in these five states: Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.
Are Packing Materials Bad for the Environment?
It depends on what kind of packing material you choose. Polystyrene foam can take hundreds of years to decompose. Paperboard takes only months. But if you have to dispose of packing peanuts, you might want to think twice before tossing them in the trash. Recycling packing peanuts is one option. Another option is to compost them.
Will UPS Accept Packing Peanuts to Recycle?
Packing peanuts aren’t accepted by most recycling programs. You may be able to recycle them at home through your local curbside collection program. Check with your local government to see if they accept packing peanuts.
How Can I Get Rid of Packaging Materials?
If you don’t want to throw away these items, you can take them to a recycling facility where they’ll be recycled into new products. You can find collection bins at several local stores such as Lowe’s, Target, Kohl’s and Walmart.
What Packaging is the Most Friendly for the Environment?
Packaging made from corrugated cardboard and other types of recycled materials are regarded as being among the most eco-friendly and sustainable.