starch packing peanuts

Dissolving peanuts | Day 139

Right now the bottom of my bath is filled with a white, chunky sludge. It’s been there for a day, and occasionally I put some water on it, to try and reduce the gooey mass.

Good thing I also have a shower to actually use.

The stuff in my bath is not unicorn vomit or some other unspeakable substance. They are packing peanuts that recently arrived in a huge box from a local homeware store, along with the actual purchases.

The instructions on the box advised me that all the packaging was, in fact, biodegradable, and all I had to do was put the peanuts in a bath or shower, pour some water on them, and they’ll be gone in an hour.

The reason this works is because environmentally friendly packing peanuts, unlike their styrofoam brethren, are made out of starch – typically sorghum or corn, but wheat is also used. The process requires “starch and water components to be heated under elevated pressures. Explosively releasing the elevated pressure causes steam to form instantaneously and act as a blowing agent that produces a starch foam.”1 There are even kids’ science experiments that teach you how to make them using a microwave.

The resulting product looks similar to a polystyrene pellet, but has different chemical properties – most importantly, it is water soluble. You can put these packing peanuts on your lawn, compost, bath, or just in the bin, and they will not clog up the environment.

For some reason the Envirofill pellets in my bath seem to be taking their time. I still think they are cool, albeit a little repulsive in their half-slurry format, particularly when I wander into the bathroom and have forgotten about their residence in the bath.

Show 1 footnote

  1. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf0630163

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