These Packing Peanuts are Actually Made From Popcorn

Plant-based products are the way to go.

Packing peanuts cushion anything.

(MCarper /

Packaging today should be more than just strong and durable to protect the contents of boxes; it should be sustainable too! That’s why scientists at Göttingen University in Germany set out to develop plant-based packaging materials that are environmentally friendly and able to be reused or recycled.

A research group at the university have worked on developing packaging material made from popcorn according to a press release. They found that three-dimensional molded products can be made from “granulated” popcorn. The material is sustainable and an excellent alternative to the polystyrene –styrofoam – that is currently being used. 

“This new process, based on technology developed in the plastic industry, enables the production of a wide range of molded parts,” Professor Alireza Kharazipour, head of the research group said in the press release. “This is particularly important when considering packaging because it ensures that products are transported safely which minimizes waste. And this has all been achieved using a material that will even be biodegradable afterwards.”

Styrofoam is a great packing material because it is 95 percent air but it takes thousands of years to break down and is made from fossil fuels, according to Fast Company. That’s why Kharazipour started looking at plant-based alternatives. The idea of using popcorn came to him when he was at the movies eating popcorn.

“In the dark, the popcorn felt just as light as styropol foam balls,” he told Fast Company. “The next day I bought corn and made popcorn at home in a pot.” His experiments started at home and then moved into his university lab.

Kharazipour and his researchers used crushed corn that was made from inedible by-products of corn cereal production and then used a steam process to turn it into “granulated” popcorn. “The products are very light because popcorn granules are filled with air like honeycombs,” Kharazipour said. “When grain maize expands into popcorn, the volume increases by 15 percent to 20 percent.”

The packaging can be molded into different packaging shapes, including packing peanuts. The researchers coat the molded shapes with a thin layer of bioplastic so that the packaging is water-repellant. The finished product is just as strong as polystyrene but can be reused and composted.

The university already has a licensing agreement with the cereal company Nordgetreide for commercial use of the popcorn-packaging making process and is working on manufacturing packaging products from this unique popcorn material.

 “Each and every day we pollute our Earth with an ever-increasing amount of plastic waste that will be a burden on our ecosystem for thousands of years,” Stefan Schult, Managing Director of Nordgetreide said in the press release.  “Our popcorn packaging is a great sustainable alternative to polystyrene which is derived from petroleum. The plant-based packaging is made from the inedible by-products of Cornflakes production and can actually be composted after use without any residue.”

This is a big step forward in eliminating fossil fuel plastics and creating a cleaner environment. Who knew popcorn could do so much?

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