No packing material is more iconic than packing peanuts. Made out of polystyrene and commonly known as styrofoam, this weightless, spongy box filler has been a packaging staple ever since its invention in 1960

However, packing peanuts are not as widely used as they once were. Many ecommerce businesses and shipping carriers have begun to cut back on using packing peanuts in their shipments as they learn that the typical styrofoam material is harmful to the environment. 

Thankfully, packing peanuts are not the only protective packing material on the market. Other options are environmentally friendly while still providing the protection that your items need. Different materials and styles of box inserts can be used to fill boxes, prevent items from shifting, and protect from bumps and drops.

So what alternatives to packing peanuts are there, and which is the solution for your business’s needs?

Why Avoid Packing Peanuts

On the surface, packing peanuts seem like a no-nonsense solution to the need for protection while shipping. They are affordable, easy to use, and provide ample fill for the box and cushioning for your items. However, packing peanuts have many downsides. It’s important to think beyond just price and convenience when it comes to what products you purchase, as customers do too. 

The primary concern with packing peanuts is their negative environmental impact. The material that packing peanuts are made out of, polystyrene, is not biodegradable and takes hundreds of years to break down in a landfill. Packing peanuts also pollute waterways.

Packing peanuts can be a burden for customers to deal with as well. It is difficult for them to dispose of packing peanuts, as the many small pieces frequently create a mess. They can also be ingested by pets or children, causing harm. 

In recent years, eco-friendly packing peanuts have been introduced to the shipping market. Peanuts are made of plant-based materials like cornstarch and are biodegradable so they won’t pollute waterways. 

However, there is a downside to these eco-friendly packing peanuts. They weigh more than traditional packing peanuts, which increases shipping costs. Plant-based packing peanuts dissolve in water, so if your package gets wet, your protection disappears. 

Also, while these resolve the environmental concerns, they still pose a choking threat to pets and children and can create messes. 

Alternatives to Packing Peanuts

Thankfully, there are other materials you can use for packing and protecting your items. The best options available are box inserts. Box inserts are placed inside of the box to secure items and are made from either paper, cardboard, or foam. 

Inserts can be customized to fit your items exactly, providing a snug, secure fit. Not only do inserts provide protection, but they also enhance the items’ presentation. Your item receives the protection it needs to arrive at your customer in one piece and in a professional and high-quality presentation. The custom fit of an insert communicates quality and makes for a memorable presentation. 

The material you pick for the box inserts depends on the kind of items you are shipping. Foam is better for fragile items, cardboard for heavier items, and paper for smaller, lighter items.

Foam Inserts 

Foam inserts are a great alternative to packing peanuts, especially for fragile items like glass. The value of foam inserts is that they cushion, absorb shock, and protect the surfaces of your items. The items are protected from damage coming from inside or outside the box. 

The foam is usually made out of polystyrene, polyurethane, or polyethylene. The downside of foam inserts is that they are not as eco-friendly as cardboard ones. Cardboard can be recycled, but the materials that compose the foam cannot be. If this is a concern, look for biodegradable foam. 

If you’re shipping electronics, be mindful of the damage that static electricity causes to microchips. Opt for anti-static foam inserts in these cases. Instead of generating an electric charge when something rubs up against it, anti-static foam, also called conductive foam, conducts the charge through itself.  

While you might think of foam as coming only in black and white, that is not the case. Foam inserts come in many colors and can be customized to the color that fits your brand and packaging best. 

Cardboard Inserts

Another kind of insert is the cardboard insert. Cardboard inserts are made of corrugated cardboard and can be customized like the foam type. They offer rigidity and protection and hold items securely in place during transit. This cost-effective, high-quality option offers much more aesthetic appeal than packing peanuts. 

If you have the goal of more sustainability, cardboard inserts are a better option than foam. Since they are made from cardboard, the inserts can be recycled.

Additionally, cardboard inserts work well to customize your packaging even further. They come in many standard sizes and have the ability to be customized to fit your product’s needs exactly. In addition to custom size and fit, they can be printed on for an enhanced unboxing experience for your customer. 

Cardboard doesn’t offer the same kind of cushioning and surface protection as foam does, so assess your item’s needs. If these factors are priorities, foam might be the preferred choice. 

Paper Inserts 

If the items you are shipping are small and lightweight, paper inserts may be a good option. While paper inserts might not be the right choice for stabilizing and protecting heavier goods, like wine bottles, they work great for jewelry and other small items. They can add decorative appeal and create an impression of quality on the customer. 

An advantage of paper inserts is that you can print on them. This is an opportunity for more marketing for your business and a more customized experience for your customer. Include brand elements, testimonials, a logo, or a personalized note, to name a few. 

Also, paper is lightweight and won’t drastically increase shipping costs. While cardboard and foam don’t weigh a large amount, paper weighs even less. A little bit adds up over time, so making the switch to paper inserts pays off for shipping lighter items. 

Size Down the Box 

One final way to eliminate the use of packing peanuts is to get rid of the need for them. Size down the box that you pack the items in so that no extra room needs to be filled. This also reduces the space your package takes up, saving you money on shipping. 

Safe Shipping 

While packing peanuts is iconic packing material, other options can meet your protection needs. Inserts offer more sustainability, professionalism, and customization to your packaging. Cardboard, paper, and foam options exist to meet your item’s specific packaging needs. 

Because the inserts fit your items perfectly, there is no extra room to fill with packing peanuts. The inserts offer all of the benefits of packing peanuts, like protection, cushioning, and stability, without the hassle and damage to the environment. Before filling your box with loose, environmentally unfriendly packing peanuts, think again and consider using a box insert. 

For more packing and shipping advice, visit Box Genie.



  1. Who Made That Packing Peanut? | The New York Times 
  2. 10 Advantages of Green Packaging to the Environment | Green Business Bureau  
  3. What is conductive foam? | Sinkery Foam

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