Creative (and Green) Alternatives to Packing Materials

posted 10/22/2014

By their very nature, packing materials provide the bulk and filler needed to protect our packages during the moving and shipping process. But packing materials don’t have to add filler to our landfills!

According to the Air and Waste Management Association and Garbage Magazine, Americans throw away 150,000 tons of packaging material each DAY! This would fill 10,000 tractor trailer trucks, which would stretch 120 miles end to end.

The good news is that whether you are facing a major packing project like moving or simply sending a gift through the mail, eco-friendly options are available. Here is a look at some of the non-environmentally-friendly packing culprits vs. the newer, sustainable (and even fun) alternatives:

  1. Styrofoam packing peanuts: Most are made of polystyrene, petroleum-based, harmful material that takes decades (some research suggests centuries) to break down in the landfill.
    Eco-friendly alternative: Look for biodegradable packing peanuts (made of natural, non-toxic sources like corn starch) which you can reuse, compost at home or dissolve in water.

    Note: Have Styrofoam packing peanuts to get rid of? Don't throw them away! Local packaging stores and participating UPS Store locations accept clean foam packaging peanuts for reuse. Or, utilize the Peanut Hotline, a nationwide reuse program for plastic packing peanuts. Just call 800-828-2214 for collection sites near you.
  2. Bubble wrap: This material takes a very long time to break down in the landfill. It’s best to save bubble wrap for reuse whenever possible.
    Eco-friendly alternative: Popcorn! Yes, we’re actually talking about the kind you eat! It is biodegradable and is an innovative initiative of the moving industry. However, when using popcorn for packing, go for the unbuttered and unsalted variety.
  3. Packing paper: Many companies now use recycled packing paper which you can save and reuse for your own packaging needs. If paper is not too crumpled, consider donating it to a local preschool.   
    Eco-friendly alternative: Depending on your packages end-location, consider using old sheets, blankets or towels to wrap delicate items. If you’re mailing a package to someone, wrap items in newspaper or magazine sheets.
  4. Plastic air pillows: Made of similar material as plastic bags, this type of plastic is not recyclable in your Curb It! recycling cart and too often ends up in the landfill.
    Eco-friendly alternative: Crumple or shred newspaper, magazines or similar paper already marked for the recycling cart.

    Note: Plastic air pillows (once deflated) can be recycled at locations that accept plastic bags like local grocery stores. Also, some manufacturers of plastic air pillows have recycling programs where you can ship them back (details listed on the pillows).

Remember to pack conservatively by using the smallest box you can, the least amount of packing material and, if you have to purchase packing materials, opt for eco-friendly options that are recyclable, biodegradable or reusable and won’t add filler to the landfill.