Saturday, December 09, 2006

Styrofoam Peanuts

After receiving my bazillionth shipment of gifts, I realized that every single shipper is using styrofoam peanuts in larger than necessary boxes this year. Wow, I thought, with the increase in shipping items from the internet, maybe I should invest in a company that produces these things. So I sat down and googled them.

I never got to find out about the manufacturers because I found out so many interesting things about these peanuts. You can search yourself, or I can provide you with a summary of important information:

1. A lot of people feel guilty about using these harmful-for-the-environment peanuts but use them anyways.

2. The biodegradable type are said to be more expensive and it is claimed they don't do as good a job in cushioning as styrofoam. They are made from cornstarch (read this book and find out why corn is evil and creatives a negative energy balance) and if they get wet they dissolve, not a good feature, and one that makes companies that rely on their shipments arriving intact nervous. Here is a good explanation from Crutchfield, a website that I order from, and is one of the companies that started me down this road of curiosity.

3. Some people get quite upset when the idea of boycotting companies that use sytrofoam peanuts is brought up.

4. Big companies don't buy the actual peanuts. They have a machine that creates and shoots peanuts directly into the boxes. I have tried to find the site where I saw this, and I can't, so it may not be true, and I couldn't find a manufacturer of a machine that might make the peanuts on the spot - though it made sense since storing them would be quite cumbersome. When I was driving in Namibia I noticed that they graded the roads with ground up rocks which they made right there on the spot from rocks gathered just off the side of the road (making the road and the side of the road the same color, which doesn't make for a very safe driving environment, since it is uber-flat, dry as a bone, no trees, no other cars and thus mesmerizing when everything in front of you is the same color and tone). It made much more sense than hauling crushed stone around when they could crush it right there.

5. Sytrofoam peanuts are not recyclable through curbside recycling, but they can be recycled by taking them to certain companies that accept them, such as Mailboxes Etc. (who will probably just resell them to you the next time you go in) and Williams Sonoma.

6. There is a fun-sounding experiment involving styrofoam peanuts and nail polish remover.

7. They are made from expanded polystyrene, or EPS, and are generally categorized with plastics.

8. They seem big, but are 95% air and 5% never-to-leave-this-earth chemicals.

9. Polystyrene is, thankfully, no longer made using chlorofluorocarbons.

10. Dow Chemical invented polystyrene resin in 1938, and styrofoam appears to be a brand name that they either own or coined. I'm too lazy to research this particular factoid further. EPS isn't the same thing as other things we tend to call styrofoam, but it is all very subtle and I don't really care about the difference. Unless you are in that business or a chemist I'm not sure it matters.

11. Naturally, this industry has a lobbying organization.

12. I have now rethunk my initial and very stupid idea of investing in a company that would make this pollutant.

Happy holidays and remember to mail your EPS peanuts to somebody else so they can be the ones burdened with the guilt of throwing them in the landfill, and you can have a happy and toxic-free 2007!


Mom said...

Interestingly, the companies I've ordered from have used air pillows, not peasnuts. I therefore have to assume that some companies are a little more progressive than others.

Steve said...

Well, all that is quite interesting.
I kind of figured there there wasn't that much substance to this crap, but it is nice to have this confirmed. I mean if we want to continue using the not so proper but close name, Styrofoam, then foam is foamy. and foamy is known to be full of air. But still there are a lot of peanuts and even when you take out all the air you still end up with a lot of crap.

One hope is that through genetic engineering we can one day develop into humans who could eat styrofoam and convert it into energy. Soon children will be sitting down to a nutritional breakfast of a bowl of Frosted Foamies. They could even be designed to 'Snap, Crackle, Pop" when served with milk containing a trace of acetone. That acetone would also be helpful in the overall digestion of all the other plastic chap that has found it's way into our food-chain. And then we will all live happily ever after.

Don't worry too much until that bright day. You see, not everyone is that involved with "peanuts" I have yet to receive a single one this cheerful holiday season. I am on the cutting edge of the lonely bachelor underground. When xmas is mentioned we cringe and shudder. This behavior tends to ward off an influx of peanuts.
I kind of go for the bubble wrap that Mom mentioned. It's easier to throw away since it is a one-sheet and it is very amusing to find different way to pop it. Hours of fun to be had there.
Thanks for honoring TTD with a link. I am really touched.

Styrofoam said...

One tip I can give to minimize the amount of Styrofoam that end up in landfills is to reuse them. If you receive packages that use Styrofoam, reuse them to send package yourself. Or you can use them for arts and crafts and home improvement projects.