Forbidden Substance: The Styrofoam Packing Peanut

By , March 7, 2014

Shortly after we moved to our “homestead,” we realized that certain materials should not be allowed on the property. We’ve never explicitly banned any particular item on the property other than one: styrofoam packing material, often referred to as “peanuts”.

Styrofoam can be useful. We use blue and pink insulation styrofoam for insulation. Plenty of our fishing floats have styrofoam in them. We have original packing from computers and other equipment stashed away in the shed. Still, we try to limit it.

We don’t like how styrofoam crumbles into tiny, non-biodegradable specks that can’t be easily removed. Styrofoam peanuts are the worst, because they break up so easily.

Forbidden materials: a box full of styrofoam "peanuts" (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

Forbidden materials: a box full of styrofoam “peanuts” (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

We found a use for styrofoam peanuts that eventually prompted the ban. The outlet valve for our winter water tank rests in an insulated box underneath the tank. The original owner insulated the box’s air space with handsful of forest duff. This packing often got wet, which made it difficult to pull out of the box to reach the valve. We filled a bag with styrofoam peanuts and stuffed it in the hole. This worked fairly well, but any time the bag leaked, tiny snowflakes of styrofoam poofed out and littered the ground. We got rid of it years ago, but the ground around the tank continues to show evidence of our mistake.

We informed family of our ban, and asked them not to pack anything they sent to us in styrofoam. Most of them are careful to comply. When they can, they pack items in the water soluble corn peanuts. Those work well, and if we don’t want them anymore, we just drop them in a mud puddle to melt. Usually, they pack with old newspapers, which we use in the wood stove.

We check incoming packages for styrofoam while we’re still in town. We know of two stores in Haines that continually ask for unwanted packing material for the mail order end of their businesses, so it’s easy to pull out the package contents (which we want to be as small as possible for packing over the trail anyway) and take the peanuts over to one of the stores before leaving town. Even so, we always seem to end up with a few flecks of styrofoam stuck to us and our belongings with static electricity. On the whole, though, through continued vigilance, we manage to remain a largely styrofoam free “homestead.”

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy