Is it Safe to Eat Biodegradable Packing Peanuts? (5 ways to discern between degradable and non-biodegradable packing peanuts)

In this article, it shall be explored if biodegradable packing peanuts are safe to eat or not. Other than that, a couple of related topics shall also be explored including:

  • What are packing peanuts? 
  • What are the types of packing peanuts? 
  • How to make biodegradable packing peanuts at home?
  • How to dispose of packing peanuts? 
  • How to differentiate between degradable and non-degradable packing peanuts?
  • What are the benefits of packing peanuts? 
  • FAQs related to biodegradable packing peanuts

Is it Safe to Eat Biodegradable Packing Peanuts?

No, it is not safe to eat biodegradable packing peanuts. Although biodegradable packing peanuts are made from plant-based materials, they are only made in the context of packaging. They do not meet the edible health standards nor have any nutrition. 

The primary function of biodegradable packing peanuts is to provide padding and cushioning to the contents of the package and hence they can not be consumed. However, biodegradable packing peanuts can be used as plant food. 

What are Packing Peanuts? 

Packing peanuts as the name suggests are the packaging material that comes along in the packaging boxes. The main function of these packing peanuts is that they provide cushioning, padding and rigidity to the boxes. 

As it can be guessed from the name, packing peanuts are in the shape of small peanuts and are usually in white colour. However, packing peanuts may also come in different shapes like an ā€˜sā€™ and other colours too such as green or pink. 

Packing peanuts are also termed foam peanuts and foam popcorn. These names arise from the size and shape of these packing peanuts. The primary function of these packing peanuts is to provide support and counter the fragility of fragile items. 

The use of packing peanuts in the consumer market has been quite significant; however, it has been home to environmental concerns as well leading to decline in the use of packing peanuts and a quest for alternatives. 

What are the types of packing peanuts? 

Packing peanuts can be classified into two types based on the material with which they are made. The types of packaging peanuts are traditional packing peanuts and biodegradable packing peanuts. 

Traditional packing peanuts are the conventional form of packing peanuts that are made from polystyrene. Polystyrene is also termed styrofoam and is used to make foams and plastic products. 

The material used to make conventional packing peanuts is not biodegradable since polystyrene may take hundreds of years to degrade in controlled disposal settings. This is the main reason behind the other type of packing peanuts. 

The next type of packing peanut is the contemporary packing peanuts which are biodegradable. This packing peanut is made from plant-based materials (usually starch). This form of packing peanut is easily biodegradable making it a good fit for sustainability. 

Is it possible to make packing peanuts at home? 

The packing peanuts that are made from styrofoam are rather difficult to make at home, however, it is feasible to make biodegradable packing peanuts at home. Owing to the versatile use of packing peanuts in packaging, this question appears to be of piqued interest. 

To make packing peanuts at home, softened corn is mashed either with a fork or in a blender and then is added to water. Wax paper, cheesecloth and cornstarch powder are then used to make packing peanuts at home. 

How can packing peanuts be disposed of?  

The traditional packing peanuts that are made from styrofoam can not be biodegraded. Therefore, the best that can be done is to reuse these as much as it is possible. If the polystyrene packing peanuts are disposed of wrongly, they will cause strain on the environment. 

However, the polystyrene packing peanuts are recyclable and hence should be given to the recycling authorities so that the strain on the environment is avoided. 

The biodegradable packing peanuts are, as the name suggests, biodegradable and hence should be disposed of in the compost trash cans so that the authorities may take those up for the biodegradation process. 

It may be important to note that biodegradation is different from recycling. Starch-based packing peanuts may be biodegradable but they are not recyclable. However, starch-based packing peanuts can be opted for other options. 

Starch-based packing peanuts can also be used as plant food. They can be easily burned and can also be readily dissolved in water. 

Is it safe to eat biodegradable packing peanuts? 

Although the biodegradable packing peanuts pose no harm to the environment since they are derived and made from plant-based material, it is not advised and recommended to eat the biodegradable packing peanuts. 

The primary reason for this is that the packing peanuts are not made in the context of eating. They are made in the context of creating cushioning and padding for packaging while also making sure that there is no harm to the environment. 

The biodegradable packing peanuts are not made in compliance with the health standards that are and must be adopted by the food production processes and also there is no nutritional value in the biodegradable packing peanuts. 

Although biodegradable packing peanuts are not suggested and advised to be consumed by humans, it is safe to give packing peanuts to plants as food since packing peanuts are made from plant-derived products. 

5 ways to discern between degradable and non-biodegradable packing peanuts? 

It is known that there are two types of packing peanuts; conventional and biodegradable. The latter is biodegradable and causes less strain to the environment whereas the former is not and may take up many years to degrade. 

It is, therefore, important to be able to discern between the two types so that the right choices can be made as a consumer to be as environmentally conscious as possible. 

First and foremost, look for any signs or labels that may tell if the packing peanuts are biodegradable or not. However, usually, there are no such signs and hence there is a need to resort to other options of differentiation. 

Apparently, it may not be possible to discern between the two types of packing peanuts since both would look the very same in most cases. However, there are some tests and checks that can be done by a layman to discern between the two types. 

Since biodegradable packing peanuts are made from plant-based materials, usually starch, these packing peanuts can easily be dissolved in water. To check if packing peanuts are biodegradable, put them in a glass of water and see if they dissolve readily or not. 

Another check that can be applied to know if packing peanuts are biodegradable is to burn them. Biodegradable packing peanuts can easily be burnt and would readily catch fire. In fact, because of this reason, they are used in BBQ settings as well. 

The two can also be discerned based on their colour. However, this is not a definite rule of thumb. Generally, biodegradable packing peanuts would be of green colour whereas the non-biodegradable packing peanuts would come either in white or light pink colours. 

Another way to differentiate between the two types is the sticky test. Since non-biodegradable packing peanuts would easily stick to surfaces like clothes and electronics, it is doable to know if the packing peanuts are biodegradable or not. 

What are the benefits of biodegradable packing peanuts? 

The increased use of consumerism is causing great strains on the environment and the planet. With the increasing population, the handling and managing of waste is becoming more difficult and challenging than ever. 

Therefore, the subject of biodegradable waste is of extreme importance because otherwise there is a dead end for all of us. 

The need for biodegradable packing peanuts is much greater because there is a huge shift towards online shopping and other forms of packaging. Owing to this, the packaging material that is used is also produced in massive amounts. 

If the packaging material is not sustainable and biodegradable, it would end up in landfills where it may take many hundred years to biodegrade and hence the management of solid waste will become impossible. 

That is why the use of plant-based packing peanuts is important because otherwise, the use of plastic-based packing peanuts will cause great harm to the environment. 

Conclusion

It can be concluded that although biodegradable packing peanuts are made from plant-based materials, they are not recommended for eating. The main reason is that biodegradable packing peanuts are made for packaging and not eating. 

The packing peanuts do not meet the health standards criteria nor do they have any nutritional importance. The primary function of packing peanuts is to prevent fragile materials from damage in packages. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is it Safe to Eat Biodegradable Packing Peanuts?

Can biodegradable packing peanuts be recycled? 

Although biodegradable packing peanuts can be degraded and composted, they can not be recycled. On the contrary, the non-biodegradable packing peanuts made of styrofoam can be recycled. 

Is Biodegradable packing peanuts hazardous or toxic? 

Biodegradable packing peanuts are not hazardous or toxic since they are made from plant-derived products. However, it is still not recommended to eat those. Traditional packing peanuts are, however, toxic and hazardous and may also contain carcinogens. 

Can Biodegradable packing peanuts be made at home? 

Yes, biodegradable packing peanuts can be made at home using corn, wax paper, cheesecloth and corn starch. The process of making biodegradable packing peanuts is available on the net

References: 

  • Hoover, T. (2018). The advantages of biodegradable products. Science Scope, 41(6), 18-21.
  • Liu, L. (2006). Bioplastics in food packaging: Innovative technologies for biodegradable packaging. San Jose State University Packaging Engineering, 13, 1348-1368.
  • Brigham, C. (2018). Biopolymers: Biodegradable alternatives to traditional plastics. In Green chemistry (pp. 753-770). Elsevier.
  • Eblin, Jennifer. (October 5, 2017). How to make packing peanuts.Retrieved from:  https://getawaytips.azcentral.com/how-to-make-packing-peanuts-12133405.html

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