Why we switched to biodegradable packing peanuts

Frontier Co-op customers are smart people, and it’s not uncommon for us to hear questions that start with, “Why do you …?” This first post in our new “Why We” series explains a simple but important topic: Why we use biodegradable packing peanuts in our shipments.

By Alan Miles

We’ve answered a lot of questions from our customers about our packing peanuts — both before and after our switch to biodegradable ones in 2008. The switch itself answered most of the questions we had gotten before, which were basically variations on “How can you keep sending us polystyrene packing peanuts that are a mess to deal with, pollute our planet and take hundreds of years to decompose?”

The answer then was that it was very difficult to find something truly sustainable to do the job of protecting the wide variety of packaging (including glass) that we ship. We tried various biodegradable materials with mixed responses from customers and discouraging shipping costs.


The compact, starch-based pellets we bring in are 1/28 the volume of the biodegradable packing peanuts we puff them into for use in shipments.

Problem solved

We’re as happy as our greenest customers to have finally found the right solution — and to have accomplished one of our major sustainability objectives. We enjoy answering the questions that we’re getting now, which are basically variations on “What’s the deal with the new packing peanuts?”

The peanuts we’ve found not only do a great job of protecting our products and quickly biodegrade — they reduce shipping emissions and save us money, too.

Each pallet of pre-puffed starch pellets (made from corn or potatoes) we bring in produces enough biodegradable peanuts to fill a 53-foot trailer. Here in the Midwest, manufacturers typically haul that truck from Minneapolis, Minn. With our shipping volume, we’d need a full-truck shipment at least once a week. Instead, we bring in four pallets of compact, starch-based pellets twelve times a year to make all the packing peanuts we need on-site.  (We’ve purchased a machine which takes the compact starch pellets and puffs them up into the fluffy peanuts that protect your orders.) We ship in about 1/28 the volume of the puffed peanuts and eliminate the emissions from 40 truck hauls — each burning about 42 gallons of diesel. With a savings of roughly $78,000 in shipping costs per year, our switch to more sustainable packing peanuts paid for itself in less than a year. Continue reading