The holidays are over and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been left with a house and heart blessed with the warmth of friends and far too many generous gifts. Of course, if you’re anything like me you have also been left with the byproduct of so many generous gifts: an enormous collection of packing peanuts.
It’s not necessarily the gift-giver’s fault. So often these static-filled wonders get stuffed into boxes of cheer ordered online so that the contents don’t shift during shipping. By the time they reach your house they have been charged by friction and dry air and are fully prepared to literally jump from the box and attach themselves to your eager, unsuspecting person: the perfect accessory for any hand embroidered reindeer sweater in need of a touch of relentless snow.
But then what? Once you’ve managed to un-stick yourself from the mess, what do you do with all those peanuts? If you’re lucky, you’ve been the recipient of the variety of packing peanuts made from vegetable matter: a cornstarch or wheat derivative. If you’re unsure, stick one under the faucet and see if it starts to dissolve. If so, these are a no-brainer. You can literally dump them in the sink and let them dissolve down the drain or heap them onto your compost pile. While I would not recommend it due to obvious hygiene reasons, you can even eat them. Sprinkle some cheese powder on them and serve them to surprise guests. I’m told they taste like cheese puffs.
If they don’t pass the dissolve test, though, you’re faced with a conundrum. Throw them away and they get put in a landfill. They may be comprised of about 90% air, but the oil-based polystyrene literally takes hundreds of years to decompose. Do pay attention to the color coding. If they are green, it means that they were created by recycled materials and will break down in the environment after five years or less if exposed to organic material. White or pink means that the materials used to create the peanuts were at least 70% raw (unrecycled). In addition, pink means that they’ve been treated with chemicals that help prevent static cling (and therefore a poor choice on two counts for snowballs for the reindeer sweater). The color tells a lot about how they were made, but the destruction verdict is still the same: non-recyclable. And if you can’t recycle them, then there is only one thing left to do: reuse them.
Part of the great thing about running Green Girl is that I’ve had the opportunity to intercept a lot of these peanuts that would otherwise be on their way to the landfill. Shipping companies, artists and other companies who ship in large quantities – such as Lumia Organics – come to our warehouse and pick them up. The peanuts have already been created and now they are being given a second, third or even tenth life.
There are a lot of ideas floating around on the Web on how you can even reuse packing peanuts at home:
Reuse them for your own shipping needs: Store them in a large, dry bag in your garage and use as needed.
Make a pet pillow: Is the stuffing in your zippered pet pillow beyond help? Replace it with polystyrene peanuts!
Drainage for plant containers: Line the bottom of your planters with them instead of rocks. Plus, they weigh less than rocks, so planters are easier to move.
Insulate your cooler: If you stuff a bag full of peanuts into your cooler, it will help the ice last longer.
Floating keys: If you’re heading out on a river trip or to the beach, string some peanuts together and fasten them onto your keychain to keep it from sinking.
Costume stuffing: Scarecrows and Santas alike all could use a little stuffing now and then.
For the more creative among us, here’s a fresh take on a chandelier.
And while you wouldn’t want to use packing peanuts as home insulation as they are not fire retardant, that didn’t stop this 12-year-old boy from making an insulated igloo out of them.
But if you lack quite that much creativity, most shipping or mailing companies such as PacMail and the like eagerly accept donations over the counter. And if you NEED packing peanuts, by all means – give us a call at Green Girl and they’re yours for the taking. Chances are…we’ll have more than you’ll need!