• Loose Fill 
(Extruded Polystyrene Chips, Peanuts, or Pelspan®)

    Updated 4/11/10 PAB

    Alternate names
    None reported

    Extruded polystyrene chips or “peanuts” or “Pelspan®” are available in different shapes some of which are designed to mesh together enhance their stability. More commonly they are used loosely in a container and packed around an object. When used this way they need to be packed tightly around the object, and the container should be shaken to get the fill to mesh correctly as objects tend to shift to the bottom of the container.

    A more accepted method in the museum community is to place peanuts very loosely in thin polyethylene bags to allow the bags to conform to the shape of the object and prevent objects from settling through to the bottom of the container (HDPE especially works well for this application).
    While they give overall support, there is a limitation to how much weight they can support. They are very unsound environmentally and are not biodegradable. This negative aspect can be minimized through re-use but when used loose their tendency to scatter – and in doing so, attract dirt make a less than optimal packing material, especially when during repacking you may be faced with the temptation to sweep them up dirt and all.

    Vegetable starch peanuts with names like “ECO-Fill” are a biodegradable answer to polystyrene peanuts. They are made of vegetable starches and water and can actually be eaten. They are water soluble and work the same as the peanuts for filling voids, giving overall support. This is a material has been discussed as a replacement for normal polystyrene.
    Considerations to weigh in the decision making process include the issue that in storage situations the fact that they are basically a food can attract insects. Others have expressed concerns that when used in contact with objects, the packing material if exposed to water can become a form of goo that can damage objects more that the water itself. For short term use, when bagged or when re-use in unlikely there can be a good argument for their use.
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