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Expanded polystyrene peanuts, trademarked by Dow Chemical as Styrofoam, have long been an environmental blight. Not only are the ubiquitous petroleum-based packing materials nonbiodegradable and difficult to recycle, but they also contain toxic chemicals that at certain exposure levels can cause nervous-system effects such as depression, loss of concentration, weakness, fatigue, and nausea, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That's not even the worst of it: Long-term exposure can result in liver and nerve damage, as well as the big "C"-cancer.

Besides stemming the tide Styrofoam peanuts by using alternative packing fillers, you can also help reduce virgin polystyrene demand by dropping off your used packing peanuts at a local business for reuse. The business reuse of consumer-returned foam peanuts, according to one study, saved roughly 22 million pounds of virgin polystyrene in 1994 alone.

Most pack-and-ship stores such as Mailboxes Etc. and UPS will accept clean Styrofoam peanuts for reuse in customer shipments. You can also call the Plastic Loose Fill Council's "Peanut Hotline" at 1-800-828-2214-or visit its Web site-to find a local outfit that will claim unwanted packing peanuts.

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