Monday, December 17, 2007

Packing peanuts can be fun (really!)

If you’re like me, packing peanuts are not normally fun. Long after the contents of your package are forgotten, you can still find these little white “peanuts” hiding all over the house. Once, I tried to remove the leftover packing peanuts by vacuuming. I soon discovered that they easily clog the hose of even the most powerful vacuum cleaner!

I’ve since learned that I should take my leftover packing peanuts to the Plastic Loose Fill Council, which operates over 1,500 collection centers in the United States. This organization reports that over 30% of all polystyrene packing peanuts are reused.

So … what’s fun about packing peanuts? When you open your next package, check to see if you have different kinds. Take one of each type of packing peanut and put the pieces in separate glasses of water. After about 15 minutes, look at the packing peanuts. Are any of them dissolving?

Traditional packing peanuts are made of expanded polystyrene, material that is not biodegradable (meaning this material won’t decompose or break down easily in the environment). Some newer packing supplies, like biodegradable cornstarch packing peanuts, are made of environmentally friendly materials. Cornstarch peanuts will dissolve in water; polystyrene peanuts won’t.

Some people use cornstarch peanuts as art supplies. If you dip one end of a cornstarch peanut in water, you can stick it to another peanut. Add a few more and you have a sculpture! This is a wonderful way to recycle your packing peanuts (and it is certainly better than jamming them up your vacuum).

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