Ask Eartha: What should I do with compostable packing peanuts? | SummitDaily.com

Ask Eartha: What should I do with compostable packing peanuts?

Cody Jensen
High Country Conservation Center
In addition to being an eco-friendly alternative to traditional Styrofoam packing products, compostable packing peanuts help divert waste from landfills, creating instead a resource with practical applications.
Courtesy Getty Images | iStockphoto

Dear Eartha,

I recently received a package with white peanuts that dissolve in water. I assume they are made of starch, or at least I’ve heard of that. Can I compost them?

— Diane, Frisco

Excellent question, Diane. The first time I received a package with what appeared to be puffy cereal protecting the contents, I began investigating them myself. Turns out, it would have been perfectly fine for me to have dumped the puffy contents into a giant bowl and chowed down. In fact, these protective packaging tools are manufactured through a similar process as their tasty counterparts. Although I am not recommending you do so, feasting on these protective puffs is an option to the most adventurous of foodies. To answer your question simply: Yes, you can certainly compost these eco-friendly packing pellets. However, I’d prefer to really sink my teeth into this inquiry.

The Summit County Resource Allocation Park is composed of our local landfill, recycling and compost facilities. Open to the public six days a week, this facility, which is perched on the south-facing hillside west of Keystone, is responsible for handling everything from our locally generated recyclables to our municipal solid waste. Massive piles of organic matter dot the “compost pad,” a portion of land dedicated to the extensive composting operation. Heavy machinery and oversized trucks turn the giant piles throughout the year to produce the dark, nutrient-rich material. My first visit to the compost pad left me shocked, as I found myself overlooking one of the most beautiful vistas in Summit County.

The High Country Conservation Center runs the residential compost collection program, which is available to county residents. This program provides the vital input resource for this process. Composting through this program is restricted to food scraps only. Meaning, we don’t accept any manufactured compostable products in this program. These manufactured compostables include your forks, knives, plates, cups and other products traditionally advertised as compostable. For this reason, we unfortunately cannot accept these compostable packing peanuts in our compost program. Fret not, I promise you can still compost this product.

Biosolids make up a significant portion of the input resources for our local composting operations. Much like the food scraps collected through our compost drop-off program, these biosolids ultimately end up at the compost pad. Filtered out from our household waste stream, these biosolids provide much-needed fuel to generate our local compost. Contributing to this stream of resources is easier than one might think. It occurred to me during my first visit to the pad that the standard household garbage disposal contributes to this vital resource stream.

With regards to your compostable packing peanuts, simply toss them in your kitchen sink and run the water until they dissolve. If you’d prefer, you can even utilize these pellets in your backyard composting operation. Comprised of plant-based proteins and starch, these modern compostable peanuts are often 100% biodegradable. Most major manufacturers have these products certified under the Biodegradable Products Institute as well as the American Society for Testing and Materials for their compliance with modern composting standards.

In addition to being an eco-friendly alternative to traditional Styrofoam packing products, these compostable versions help divert waste from our landfills, creating instead a resource with practical applications. Nonbiodegradable options can take hundreds or even thousands of years to break down and can even end up polluting valuable ecosystems such as our oceans. Keep an eye out for these compostable pellets and learn to identify them as you receive packages. Simply run a pellet under water to determine if it’s biodegradable. Compostable packaging pellets will completely dissolve in a matter of minutes.

To join the food scraps drop-off program or to schedule a tour of the landfill, contact the High Country Conservation Center.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at info@highcountryconservation.org.


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