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Packing for a fragile planet.

Try one of these environmentally sound alternatives

SHIPPING GIFTS FOR the holidays? Then you'll have to face packing, and the uneasy feeling that all those little polystyrene packing macaroni will, sooner or later, wind up as permanent fluff in landfills or flotsam in oceans.

Do the right thing. Go with something that biodegrades more quickly. Something that ultimately can be digested by your compost pile and eaten by your garden, or thrown down as mulch or winter bird feed. We've found four good choices.

While two--excelsior and popcorn--are familiar options, you may never have heard of the new ones: both are starch-based macaroni that have a much shorter half-life than their polystyrene counterparts.


The vegetable starch-based tubes became widely available only a couple of years ago. One (Eco-Foam) is based on cornstarch, the other (Renature) on potato and other vegetable starches. At first glance, they look like polystyrene, but when you drop them in water they quickly dissolve.

Because they're water-soluble, the starch-based material shouldn't go into boxes that might get soaked, or at least not without the protection of a plastic box liner. The materials seem to tolerate high humidity, however, with impunity.


One of the most convenient packing materials is popcorn. Buy it at any supermarket, pop up as much as you need for packing, and string the rest on your Christmas tree.

The pure white type of popcorn is the most attractive for packing. Pop it in an air popper or microwave oven, and use it dry.

Popcorn's principal disadvantage is that it can break into little pieces. That isn't a problem with easy-to-clean objects, but the pieces could get stuck in the nooks and crannies of more complicated things. Popcorn oil can also stain fabric and paper.


Excelsior--long, thin wood shavings--was once the packing material of choice, but it's been largely replaced by polystyrene. As the bad press on plastic continues, excelsior is becoming popular again.

Because excelsior is slow to compost, you might prefer to use it as mulch on shrub beds, reuse it in home decorating, or put it to work as kindling.


Packing material distributors (look under Packaging Materials in the yellow pages) are the best sources for both excelsior and starch-based materials. Also, import and crafts stores often sell excelsior.

Manufacturers don't sell direct to consumers, but they can tell you whether there's a distributor in your area. Eco-Foam is made by American Excelsior Company, at (510) 656-6697. Renature is from Stropack, Inc., at (800) 829-1491.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:environmentally sound packing
Author:McCausland, Jim
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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