How to recycle polystyrene pellets (packing peanuts)

Filed in Blog, Recycle by on May 11, 2011 19 Comments
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How to recycle polystyrene packing peanuts

How to recycle polystyrene packing peanuts

One of our readers, Cath, bought up a great point about one of my personal bug bears.

Cath’s lovely husband treated her to a bulk order of her favourite veggie sweets from an organic supplier.

She was rather shocked to find a huge number of polystyrene pellets (packing peanuts for our friends across the pond) with which the sweets were protected.

Cath is asking for reuse ideas as she can’t recycle them and I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

Compostable polystyrene?

My first port of call  would be to check if they are, in fact, the compostable corn starch polystyrene and not the nasty non recyclable stuff at all.  Mr Green has a rather unscientific testing method which involves putting a pellet in his mouth and chewing it – don’t try this at home kids! It is amazing to see the corn starch ones virtually disappear. If you’ve got these – dunk it in water rather than in your own mouth as our intrepid and fearless eco warrior insists on – then they can be composted – yipee!


If you’ve got the naughty sort then it’s down to creative reuse ideas. For me that means keeping them until I next send something breakable in the post. I sell the odd thing here and there on eBay, and polystyrene packaging peanuts come in handy.


When I’ve found myself stockpiling them I’ve offered them on Freecycle and surprisingly, they’ve been snapped up.


Another thing I’ve done with a few bits of polystyrene is thrown it in a seedling pot for drainage material; but it involves a messy and arduous job sorting it all out again at the end of the gardening season.

That’s about as far as my creative reuse ideas go at the moment, but I know we have plenty art and crafty readers, so I’m looking forward to being wowed by your suggestions.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (19)

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  1. Antonio Pachowko says:

    Mrs G

    Pleases warn Mr G that sampling products can be very dangerous. Look at what happan to Sir Humphrey Davy ( a famous chemist in the 19th century) who had a habit of sampling the element he discovered, as you can imagine some elements and compounds are quite toxic and eventually killed him. i don’t want MR G to go the same way.

    By the way If you want to know if a battery is dead or alive, You can stick your tongue on one of the terminals if you get ashock it is alive , if not, it is dead. Don’t lick a battery if it is leaking and you may not have any tongue left or better still get a battery tester.

  2. CarSue says:

    I also use the pellets for gardening. On my patio, I keep a few dozen pots in the summer with annual flowers and herbs in them. Unfortunately, many of them are extremely heavy terra cotta or ceramic, and once flled with dirt and compost, they are very difficult to move. So last year, after a rogue box made it into the house filled with pellets, I filled up the pots with them. Some of the large pots could be half-way filled with the pellets with no ill effect to the relatively small-rooted annual flowers. The pots were SO much lighter, and I could easily move them around as wanted/needed. Plus, I had the added benefit of better drainage, and I didn’t have to use as much soil to fill them up. Loved it! At the end of the season, I simply pulled the plants out and tossed them to the compost, leaving the peanuts and soil in the pot for next year.

    Many packing specialty stores will take back the peanuts for reuse, if you don’t mail frequently enough to make it worth keeping them around.

    Great post!

  3. Tracey says:

    Bean Bags!!! I use these to refill my* bean bag because when you sit on it, it gradually wears down.

    I have 2 more bean-bag covers that I need to make liners for (I keep the packing bits inside a liner inside the bean-bag, so if it needs washing, you just wash the cover and the beans are still kept together) and hope to be able to get some from freecycle for those too! 🙂

    *though I should probably admit that the cats steal it more often than I am “allowed” to use it!

  4. Attila says:

    I was going to suggest bean bags or animal beds, too. They would be very warm. I also use the packing peanuts for drainage in plant pots and yes, they are a pain to pick out later, but hey, it doesn’t take long.
    The shaped blocks of polystyrene I save for my friend who makes cake decorations and she cuts them to shape and covers them with sugarpaste; one example was an ambulance cake topper for a paramedic.
    It would be better if the blasted stuff was illegal! My beloved bought me a pressie that arrived today; I was annoyed to see the inner box was buffered in the outer box by those bags of air and I was quite annoyed, until I noticed they were marked as bio-degradeable. So I cut them up and put them on the compost; hope it works.

  5. Mrs Green says:

    @Antonio Pachowko: Thanks Antonio; I will pass on your concerns. And battery testing in this way is something Mr G does too!

    @CarSue: Thanks for sharing your experience Sue – glad using the polystyrene had so mane benefits for you in the garden.

    @Tracey: Making your own bean bags is a great idea; cats LOVE them don’t they – I guess it’s because they get so warm…

    @Attila: I hope your packaging composts down too and what a brilliant idea about the cake decorations; I’d not thought of that.

  6. Bernalong says:

    If they are indeed non compostable then I would call the organic place that sent them and question why they are using them. I know that won’t solve the question of what to do with these ones, but surely if they are an organic supplier then they shouldn’t be using them in the first place (in my opinion).

  7. Tracey says:

    Apparently packaging foam works well in bean-bags too!

    I recently got a lump of mixed metal and glass as an “award” for being with the company I work with for 5 years. I appreciate the sentiment of the recognition, but if I’d known, I could have saved them the bother and the money they must have spent on it could have just gone to charity or something!

    It came in a black “leather-look” cardboard box (about 5 times the size of the actual award), with a load of laser-cut packaging foam to stop it getting damaged and then this monstrosity of an award and a badge in (another!) presentation box set into the laser-cut foam and then I had to to work out what I can do with it all!

    I have left the award on the windowsill at work – I don’t need more useless clutter at home. I have no idea what to do with it long-term.

    The box… turns out to be the perfect size for storing our packets of cards that have been dumped on the games shelf, and a couple of other card style games. 🙂

    The badge presentation box will be re-used to give a prezzie to a friend.

    And the packaging foam… was cut up into inch-square lumps, and added to the bean-bag along with the packaging peanuts that I’d been saving for ages – Qwerty kitty was well chuffed with the extra height on the bean-bag! 😀

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @Bernalong: I agree – thanks for sharing 🙂

    @Tracey: Well congrats on your award; although I understand the ‘no need’ approach too 😉 Sounds like you’ve thought up some great reuse ideas already…I’m sure kitty is feeling very regal and at home where s/he can look down on his subjects 😀

  9. Sheila says:


    I am currently looking for a load of these polystyrene bits to fill up a great tub to have as a bran tub
    for children at our allotment open day. Has anyone got any to spare?

    Best Wishes

  10. Mrs Green says:

    @Sheila: Sheila, I’ll put a plea out on our twitter and facebook pages for you 🙂

  11. ptesinge says:

    From moving house a lot over the last few years, we have boxes and boxes of them. We’ve kept them but it’s ridiculous to use all our storage space for them.

    So – there are many places that sell packaging which will take peanuts back for “recycling”. I’m sure they just repackage and re-sell, but I’d far prefer that than storing myself or tossing in a landfill.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @ptesinge: Great idea ptesinge; have you actually tried this with success yet?

  13. Fiona says:

    As well as the ‘peanuts’, does anyone know what can be done with the blocks of polystyrene that come round this such as electrical goods? I could break them down into peanuts, but it would be very messy/

  14. Jane says:

    @Fiona: Useful for part filling plant pots and planters – especially large ones so that you do not need to use so much compost. Many companies no longer use this stuff but just use cardboard. Why not complain to the supplier? The big companies who deliver fridges etc can take packaging away and because they have a lot of it are able to recycle it.

  15. Baby Gifts says:

    As a working mother of 7 kids and two internet based gift businesses, I would appreciate all the polystyrene pellets (packing peanuts) I could possibly get my hands on, So anyone wanting to dispose of theres please feel free to send them to my free post address –

    Creative Gifts Ltd
    PO.BOX 5717

    I will really appreciate these, not sure if re using them and sending them on to my customers can really be classed as re cycling, but I am sure in an attempt to keep them out of and away from land fill sites for even one day extra has to be worth it.

    Lisa Mills
    Mum of 7

  16. Jane says:

    How about requesting these on your local freecycle/freegle!?

  17. Chris Levey says:

    We e-bay a fair bit and we got our polystyrene pellets for packing from Freengle. so if you have any to get rid of put them on Freengle/Freecycle

  18. Jennifer says:

    I have a garbage bag full of them from a computer part I ordered and have been trying to figure out what in the world to do with them. This was really helpful. Freecycle. I’ll have to look at that.
    Was Lisa Mills or Shelia from the States, do you know? I could send them mine.
    I have never figured out how to get your comments, so I’ll have to check back! 🙂

  19. Jane says:

    @Jennifer: I googled and Lisa Mills appears to be in Essex. I still like the Freegle/Freecycle idea or Streetbank or any more eg Don’t Dump That where you may find someone local to you. Any small shop that you walk by just near you that has to package stuff up – eg a second hand or gift shop? Make a local connection! Is there a local forum?

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