Alternatives for polystyrene beads

Written by dan ketchum
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Alternatives for polystyrene beads
Polystyrene beads have arts-and-crafts and industrial applications. (red bean bag image by Christopher Meder from

Polystyrene is a polymer--or compound--containing liquid styrene. When solidified, polystyrene is a transparent and rigid thermoplastic. In bead form, manufacturers often use it as stuffing for bean bags, toys or bean bag chairs. Polystyrene beads and larger beadlike "peanuts" serve as packing, while other polystyrene products serve as insulation. Polystyrene raises some environmental concerns due to its toxicity and the quantities of waste it produces. Luckily, plenty of polystyrene bead alternatives present efficient and affordable choices.

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Food Products

Polystyrene beads often stand in for natural beans, which--along with other natural food products such as corn feed--originally stuffed bean bags for games like cornhole. Dried beans still serve as a natural alternative to polystyrene beads. Bean and legume types closest in size to polystyrene beads include yellow split peas, black-eyed peas, green split peas, flageolet, lupini beans, mung beans, navy beans, soya beans and lentils. Uncooked popping corn or corn feed serves as a polystyrene bead stand-in for bean bags, stuffed toys and crafts, as do food products such as dry barley and quinoa. Other natural food products, like varieties of dried rice and small seeds with a dense consistency--like birdseed--are natural, cost-efficient and safe polystyrene alternatives.

Alternatives for polystyrene beads
Birdseed is a great alternative to polystyrene beads when it comes to stuffing. (bird seeds loose image by Allyson Ricketts from

Packing and Insulation Alternatives

For packing and insulation alternatives to polystyrene beads, the Earth Resource Foundation recommends using post-consumer recycled paper, bamboo and corn plastic products--cheap and easily renewable resources. All of these alternative products are biodegradable. Cellulose materials made from newspaper and cardboard stand in for polystyrene insulation, and natural cotton fibre serves as an alternative to polystyrene beads for craft stuffing, packing and insulation purposes. Natural straw--roughly half the cost of polystyrene and completely safe and renewable--stands in for stuffing, packing and insulation as well. Recycled polystyrene beads cut down on polystyrene waste but still bear the slightly toxic nature of styrene.

Alternatives for polystyrene beads
Straw--used as packing, stuffing and insulation--safely stands in for polystyrene beads. (straw image by Katrina from

Recycled Beads

Recycled beads are an environmentally friendly polystyrene bead alternative. Speciality suppliers offer recycled glass beads made from discarded glass bottles, dishes, fan blades and found glass. These beads are free of chemical dyes or alteration and come in more than 20 natural colours. Other recycled bead varieties include beads made from recycled bottle caps and paper. Select varieties of fair trade beads promote legal, eco-friendly and socially conscious trade among developing countries. Though these sorts of beads generally come in larger sizes made for crafts, jewellery and decor, small recycled beads come in 5-millimeter sizes. This size is well-suited for many of the functions of polystyrene beads, including bean bag stuffing, bean bag chair stuffing and toy stuffing. For small packages, recycled beads could serve as colourful and useful gift-packing.

Recycled beads are an environmentally conscious polystyrene alternative.
Recycled beads are an environmentally conscious polystyrene alternative. (a blue recycle symbol image by wayne ruston from

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