Posted on August 7, 2008 by Dennis Salazar

Ecoblivious Packaging – Polystyrene Loose Fill

"polystyrene peanuts"

Some types of secondary packaging material are far worse for the environment than others. One of the worst, in our opinion, is the old standby for void fill, polystyrene loose fill. Folks who use this material because of its (perceived) low cost and (real) speed, are, well … ecoblivious.

Polystyrene is recyclable, but not easily so. The material is extremely lightweight and therefore expensive to ship to recycling centers, which are often a long distance away. While associated transportation costs have always been high, the economics are now even worse due to the rapid run up in fuel costs.

Assuming material can be delivered economically to a recycling facility, few of them are set up to process polystyrene waste efficiently. The technology exists for efficient polystyrene recycling, but two problems stand in the way. First, the cost to build a polystyrene recycling facility is extremely high. Second, there is not much of a market for recycled polystyrene, so there is no economic incentive to justify the capital investment.

Without getting too deep into the debate over polystyrene and its overall environmentally impact, we maintain that using it for void fill packaging is an unnecessary risk.

  • Other materials, such as inflatable polyethylene air pillows, can match polystyrene loose fill for speed and are much easier to recycle. Air pillows offer superior cushioning as well.
  • Other materials, such as paper dunnage, are heavier, but offer offsetting benefits including better cushioning and easy recycling and reuse.
  • Loose fill materials made from paper or cornstarch are widely available.

In addition to its environmental drawbacks, loose fill has many functional disadvantages which we can discuss at another time. Suffice to say, shippers who want to give their products maximum protection and their customers maximum satisfaction have many, many better void fill solutions to choose from. Why be ecoblivious?

More Information
Why Styrofoam is Bad!

(Photo by iampeas on Flickr)