Packing peanuts go green – finally

By staff writer Sofia Coffin

Packing peanuts are essential to how we package items, but those little polystyrene-foam pieces can be dangerous to human health, and bad for the environment.

Conventional packing peanuts are made from expanded-polystyrene (EPS), which is made from molecules of the chemical, styrene, connecting to form polystyrene. The polystyrene is then rolled into balls and heated until it is 40 or 50 times larger than the balls were originally. These packing peanuts can take at least one thousand years to break down, and can rarely be recycled.

Biodegradable peanuts, on the other hand, are created from expanded cornstarch, or certain beans, and can dissolve in water. All of the sugars are separated so it will not attract pests. One brand of these peanuts smells like popcorn, but will draw odor from your package. Unlike conventional peanuts,  biodegradable peanuts are anti-abrasion, and will not give off particles; and by retaining a small bit of moisture, they can be anti-static. This means that they will not stick to clothes and can even be consumed and digested safely.

Polystyrene peanuts will not harm you (unless eaten), but they do harm the workers in factories, often increasing their chance of developing leukemia and lymphoma cancer. The workers in these factories are known to suffer from “styrene sickness” whose symptoms include color vision, tiredness, feeling drunk, slowed reaction time, concentration problems, and balance problems.

Non-environmental peanuts can be up three times cheaper than biodegradable peanuts and a little bit lighter. In the end, however, we must choose whether we want a greener future or a few more dollars in our pocket. But excuse me! I have to go package my computer.