Packing chips

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Most small items sold on eBay are sent in padded envelopes or bubble wrap. But when you come to the big stuff, furniture and other bulky items, many vendors turn to boxes filled with packing chips. This can sometimes be a good thing, but there can be problems. This is a very brief guide to some of the pitfalls of their use.

Basically, there are two main types of packing chips; foamed plastic and foamed vegetable product (an expanded version of puffed wheat or puffed corn made into pellets).

Foamed plastic is lightweight, more or less dust free, but it's a petrochemical product so moderately pricy. It's immune to damp, but the down side is that it isn't biodegradable. Bury some in your garden, ten years later it will still be there, more or less unchanged. Burn it, and you release some very nasty fumes.

Foamed vegetable product solves some of these problems by being slightly cheaper and lighter than foamed plastic, and biodegradable. You can actually eat the stuff, though it won't do you any good. The snag is that it is VERY biodegradable - it can be damaged by damp, and is a tasty treat for mice and other pests. If it's damp it becomes a sticky mess. Bits often flake off the pellets, and there is usually some dust.

If you use either of these materials
  • Bag the goods first - that way any dust, squashed pellets, etc. don't end up stuck to the surface. They have a knack of pushing into (or through) ventilation slots, openings such as the flaps of videos, disk drives, etc. Make sure that the bag is sealed, or chips are sure to get in.
  • Put some chips into the box before you start to put the goods in, and make sure that there are no cavities underneath that will let the goods move once the box is sealed. Fill the box to the top, shake it to make sure that things settle, and add more chips until it is completely full again.
  • Avoid mixing the two types - disposal methods are very different.
  • Seal the box thoroughly to avoid chips leaking out through the gaps.
If you receive anything packaged this way
  • Unless you have a good reason to expect to reuse the chips soon, it's a good idea to get rid of them ASAP; they can be incredibly messy, especially if pets get into them, and they can be a choking hazard for pets or children. The organic ones seem to attract mice and insects, so bag them thoroughly if you plan on keeping them around. Vacuum thoroughly.
  • Bag organic chips as organic waste (like garden or food waste etc.) or compost them. Some types can be mixed with water to make a sludge that takes up less room in a compost heap, but it's horribly sticky.
  • Bag plastic chips or mixed chips as houshold non-recyclable rubbish.
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