Can Packing Peanuts Be Recycled?

How to Recycle Packing Materials

Cardboard box with packing peanuts
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The best way to avoid having to get rid of packing peanuts is not to use them in the first place. Often, packing peanuts enter our homes through online purchases. We're often the innocent victim. Well, some companies, if you call them directly and ask politely, may offer alternatives to the nasty peanuts. Just ask before you buy.

For those of you thinking of purchasing packing peanuts to protect items during a move, first consider alternatives. Plain newsprint, rolled up socks and stuffed toys can also serve as protection for fragile items. And if you're determined that packing peanuts are what you need to move your stuff safely, then you should know how to identify the good, the bad and the just plain ugly.

Know Your Colors

Believe it or not, packing peanuts are now color-coded, so you can easily identify which ones are more environmentally-friendly.

  • White and pink: These are the traditional packing peanuts, the one most of us see when ordering electronics or glassware. The colors white and pink indicate that the materials used to make the packing peanuts are 70 percent raw, meaning that non-recycled materials were used in their manufacturing. These are the peanuts that won't break down and need to be recycled.
  • Green: Naturally, green packing peanuts are the friendliest you can get. They're made from 70 percent recycled materials and can break down in the environment. So, if you're going to purchase packing peanuts, make sure they're green!

What to Do With All Those Packing Peanuts

  • 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. However, some packing peanuts have become a little more green. Plant-based or vegetable-derived peanuts are becoming more popular.
  • 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 take the next steps.
  • 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.
  • 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. Again, it's for US readers only.
  • 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.
  • Reuse. Reusing the packing peanuts might be easier than you think. Posting an ad on Craig's List, giving them to friends who are moving, or storing them away for another move are all possibilities.
  • Donate them to a school or craft center. Check with your local community center, daycare, or school to see if they could use the packing material for crafts or other projects.