To the list of companies that have taken second looks at new greening trends and returned to old browning ways, you can add the nation's largest office-supply mail-order company. In response to customer concern over polystyrene "peanuts" used as carton filler, Quill tested alternatives such as paper and real popcorn and concluded, after all, that plastic is best.

Quill research determined that paper, versus plastic, filler (1) takes up more space in landfills, (2) deteriorates after several recyclings, (3) is heavier, (4) taxes resources such as trees and water, and (5) releases contaminants as it degrades. As for popcorn, it (1) crumbles, (2) leaves a residue, (3) attracts pests, and (4) diverts farmland from food production.

Plastic peanuts have their flaws, too. For one, they don't degrade. (But then, natural substances like newsprint and T-bone steaks don't score all that well on that front, either, having been found intact years later in landfills.) At least peanuts can be manufactured without releasing harmful chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the ozone. And by using only recycled polystyrene in its 15,000-plus shipments a day, Quill claims it's keeping harmful stuff out of the waste stream.

-- Robert A. Mamis

Quill welcomes requests for its modest brochure, "Things Aren't Always As They Seem" (printed on recycled paper), which defends the company's conclusions. Write Quill, Recycling Research Committee, 100 Schelter Rd., Lincolnshire, IL 60069. For sources that collect used polystyrene to keep it out of the environment, see "Peanut Cycles" [ [Article link]].