Millions of packages are transported and shipped all over the globe on a daily basis. While some packages contain regular items that do not require additional care, a lot of other packages contain fragile items that need to be handled with extreme caution in order to avoid breakage. Examples of fragile items usually include television screens, laptops, desktop computers, and glassware such as plates and bottles. One way that the safety of such fragile items can be secured is through the use of packing foam which is otherwise known as packing peanuts or packing noodles because of its peanut-like or noodle-like shape.
Packing peanuts are usually 1.5 to 2 inches in length (just like a normal peanut in its shell), and are approximately half an inch thick. These are made with either polystyrene or starch. Polystyrene is a non-biodegradable chemical that is soluble in acetone but not in water. Foams made with polystyrene are thus often used more than once by shipping stores. On the other hand, starch is a biodegradable material that is soluble in water and makes starch-based foams more disposable. Regardless of what the Packing Peanuts are made of, they serve the main purpose of cushioning any impact that may come to your packages thus protecting its contents from harm such as breakage and distortion. It must be noted that the best results can be obtained when 2 to 3 inches of foam is used to line the package container. The weight added by the packing foam to the package's total weight is often negligible.
A Brief History
A famous chemical company invented and started producing packing peanuts in 1965. At the time, fragile items were shipped in thicker packaging, resulting in packages which were extremely bulkier and heavier than they should have been. Since shipping costs were based on package weights and not number of packages as is still the current practice, having extremely heavy packages meant bigger shipping expenditures for both companies and individuals. Similar to the ones used today, the original packing peanuts produced in the 1960s were made with white polystyrene. However, throughout the years the packing noodles have grown to have at least three color varieties. The color of the packing peanut has been used to indicate its chemical composition. The green color is used to indicate that the packing foam is made with chemicals that are biodegradable and eco-friendly. The traditional white color indicates seventy to one hundred percent fresh or recycled polystyrene content. White foams are often used and reused over long periods of time since they do not disintegrate and are sometimes non-toxic. The last packing peanut variety is colored pink. Foams of this last variety are used less often than the previous two and are usually used for cushioning electronic devices. This is because pink packing noodles are fused with chemicals that make it static resistant. Other foam varieties are prone to getting a static cling but may still be used for ensuring the safety of fragile electronic devices.
Alternative Uses for Packing Peanuts and Foams
Since some varieties of packing foams are non-biodegradable and take hundreds to thousands of years to decompose, it is ideal to reuse and recycle these foams. There are multiple alternative uses for packing foams in addition to the simple ways through which they can be reused and reduced. If you ship items on a regular basis, the easiest way you can contribute to foam wastage reduction by simply reusing your packing foams. Another approach would be to contact nearby appliances or electronics stores within your vicinity and to ask them if they accept or buy used packing foams. A number of businesses already do this nowadays in line with efforts to reduce production and consumption of non-decomposable waste. Some furniture makers also accept used packing foams or noodles because these can be used to fill bags and produce the infamous bean bag. At home, you can also stuff pillow cases with used foam in order to come up with your own pillow. You can even create another one for your pets.
Furthermore, packing peanuts can be used for hydroponic gardening. Hydroponic gardening is an unconventional form of gardening that substitutes soil with other substances. It is fast gaining popularity and one soil substitute is the polystyrene packing foam. If you are not a hydroponic gardener, you can still use old packing foams to replace the gravel that lines the bottom of your plant pots and boxes. Make sure you wear safety gloves to protect your hands when you perform this switch. This way, excess water from plant pots pass through the bottom quickly (as when using gravel) but the pots weigh much lighter making moving them easier for the gardener.
Apart from what has already been mentioned, used foams can also be utilized to prolong the life of ice such that the time it takes for ice to melt can be increased. This can be done by stuffing packing peanuts into resealable plastic bags and lining ice chests or containers with the foam-filled bags. The foam is able to increase the ice chest's existing insulation and further lowers the temperature within the container leading to an increase in the time needed for the ice to melt. The foam-filled bags can also be used to keep food in lunch boxes cool. If you have a lot of kids, you can ask them to use packing peanuts for their arts and crafts projects. Since the non-biodegradable types are in white, children can paint over them to give the foams more flair. There are countless projects online that your kids (especially young girls) can follow. An example would be to create bracelets and other forms of jewelry from the used foams. Other creative uses would be to use the foams as refrigerator magnets or even as holiday ornaments. In the end, packing peanuts have gone through a lot of transformation not only in terms of formulation and production but also in terms of usage since its initial conception in the 1960s.