Q. We just moved, and as I unpack, I’m wondering what we should do with all of these packing peanuts?  They’re still perfectly good, but they take up too much room to store in the closet until I need them again. Can I recycle or reuse them? –Wanda Lee, Columbia, MO

A. If you had enough extra room in your closets to store loads of packing peanuts, Wanda, we’d be all up in your grill about green homes and not owning (read: heating/cooling/maintaining) more space than you need. So don’t feel bad about not saving them for next time. Unfortunately though, very few recycling programs accept packing peanuts. Worse, most brands of peanuts are made of polystyrene-based foam, which doesn’t biodegrade, and can remain intact for hundreds of years.  


Come to think of it, packing peanuts are so durable that we’d never need to manufacture another one in our lifetimes, if only we could find a way to keep passing them along to the next person in need of packing supplies. Enter: Peanut Hotline, a directory set up by a trade group representing packing-peanut-makers. Just punch in your city or zip code and you’ll get a list of nearby retailers that collect the little buggers for reuse. Or go to Earth 911’s similar search tool and type in packing peanuts. For some reason, the two directories seem to have very little overlap, so try both to get plenty of choices.


And next time you need to pack anything fragile, go for biodegradable packing peanuts. They’re made of cornstarch, which magically dissolves in water, and they’re widely available at places like Staples and Office Max.


Story by Sarah Schmidt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008.


Copyright Environ Press 2008