Alternatives to Packing Peanuts

Alternatives to Packing Peanuts

, by Maeve Reidy, 6 min reading time

Packing Peanuts ... Packing Beans ...  Anybody who knows me, knows I absolutely abhor the things! Granted, they do their job as voidfill, but there are far better (and more eco-friendly!) alternatives available!

You may call them Packing Peanuts or Packing Beans.

But anybody who knows me, knows I absolutely abhor the things! Granted, they do their job as voidfill, but I (personally!) struggle to find any other redeeming features about them! But I know that many Irish businesses still use them when packing their orders to be shipped out.

However, Knowledge is Power. So let's try to find out more about these pesky little yokes ... and perhaps find better alternatives along the way!

packing peanuts

Who Invented Packing Peanuts?

Before Packing Peanuts were invented anything from scrunched up newspaper to straw, even popped popcorn was used as voidfill (the local vermin population must have been over the moon!) but the story of Packing Peanuts starts some time around 1941 in America when Ray McIntyre, a researcher at Dow Chemicals, invented foamed polystyrene which became known as Styrofoam. Whatever about the horrors that people lived through during World War 2, the years following, although dreary and tough, meant there was a huge explosion in newly-invented innovative products - packaging included!

Polystyrene Packing Peanuts were first invented in 1962 by Robert E. Holden. Holden is one of the many important inventors about whom we don’t know much about - details of his life have largely been lost to history. He was born in 1933 but never achieved any real fame, however his invention changed the world of the shipping of consumer goods. 

What we do know about Holden is that he invented a new kind of machine that processed polystyrene strips, and that this machine used a heating and steaming process to increase the cell sizes of the polystyrene foam. This fluffy, buoyant structure is why packing peanuts are so good for protecting all kinds of fragile goods. They absorb shocks extremely well, and their interlocking design further helps them keep cargo immobilized and cushioned. 

Once Holden's patent was granted, Dow Chemicals put packing peanuts into production in 1965, and the packaging material caught on almost immediately. Before long, businesses were using these versatile and inexpensive void fill materials to ship just about everything. 

 

Why Use Packing Peanuts?

So Robert Holden invented a solution to stop us using organic/edible materials (like straw or popped popcorn!) as voidfill. And the world was thrilled! What's not to love - an inexpensive lightweight product that stops the products you are shipping being smashed to bits?!

But then we realised that the natural planet around us was suffering. So instead of the carcinogenic Styrene Monomer that is the basic ingredient of Packing Peanuts, we looked to more eco-friendly solutions like starch-based Packing Beans ...

IT STILL DOESN'T ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS OF MOST BUSINESSES!!

messy packing peanuts all over floor

Have you asked your Customers?!

First and foremost, how do the people on the receiving end, your customers, feel about receiving a box packed with packing peanuts, even the biodegradable variety? Ask a few and you will probably discover they are not best pleased with your choice of packing material. Digging through the peanuts to locate the item they ordered is just the beginning, and it ends with trying to find a way to dispose of them. Peanuts cannot be easily recycled, and they take up a tremendous amount of space to be stored for later reuse. Mostly they are just plain messy and to be honest, opening a delivery with packing peanuts going everywhere (that you have to dispose of yourself) would you repeat-buy from a business that uses these?!

Why would any business person ignore their customers’ complaints? Because peanuts tend to be among the least expensive void fills on a “cost per cubic metre” basis. Once again, though, we have to draw the distinction between cost and price and if you factor in all the costs of use, you’ll understand that packing peanuts are not nearly as inexpensive as they appear to be in the per-cubic-metre comparison packing peanut sellers like you to focus on. 

 

Hidden Costs of Using Packaging Peanuts

The additional labour cost for large volume users of peanuts has been well documented, with packing stations that require cleanup, in some cases, several times a day. However; my biggest problem with peanuts is the huge amount of space they take up for storage and shipment. 

bags of packing peanuts in a warehouse

Translate that into shipping and storage costs, and you will understand why I have such an issue with packing peanuts. Also, bear in mind that every voidfill product you use is shipped a minimum of two times before you ship it to your customer. Most types typically ship from the manufacturer to the local distributor, and then from the distributor to you. Imagine the cost and carbon footprint that leaves behind!

cat covered in packing peanuts packaging
There are Greener Alternatives!

The specific application will always dictate the “best” solution for any given packaging problem, but Box Depot can offer some greener alternatives.

From ActivaWrap Paper, to Paper Voidfill, even Bubl Air Cushioning Pods that are just 2% recycled plastic and 98% air! You could even make your own voidfill from your waste cardboard boxes with a Cardboard Shredder!

good for the earth banner


To be fair, foam peanuts are inexpensive, lightweight and do a nice job of supporting heavy products during shipment. My question however is, if you can utilize a greener, more customer friendly and cost competitive product, why wouldn’t you? 

Box Depot believes it's possible ... why not contact us to find out how!

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