We need to talk about Bean bags

13 Feb 2019 We need to talk about Bean bags

The filling of those cosy, colourful BEAN BAG CHAIRS we sit in for coconuts, cocktails, beers and sunsets. 

Those beans / beads are fast becoming the most hated polluters of beaches all over the world. It’s their plastic bead filling! Notorious white Styrofoam beads escaping from their bags and littering beaches. A huge cause for concern, the pellets are microplastic size 3-5mm presenting a grave hazard to marine wildlife.

Q. WHY is this happening? 
People are starting to dispose of old bean bags and in some places like Bali businesses may be refilling them on beaches.

Q. How many people are needed to top up a bean bag with filling? 
A. Not less than 2 persons per bag. It’s tricky. 

Bags must be repaired, refilled or recycled responsibly.

Q. Who recycles these bean bag beans?

A. "As they are made from polystyrene (EPS), they are technically recyclable – however, due to the small nature of this item – some places that recycle EPS are unable to recycle the beans" - www.epsa.org.au

Q. Can bean bag chairs be filled with non-plastic filling? Such as cotton pillow filling? Real beans? Old Clothes? 
A. Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

Badge Badge

There are 4 types of common FILLINGs and NONE of them are actually BEANS. 

1. EXPANDED POLYSTYRENE (EPS) commonly called Styrofoam

1. Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) beads are the most popular worldwide nowadays. EPS is a man-made plastic processed to be in the form of tiny beads in the diameter of 3 to 5 mm. Known for its durability and heat conducting properties. 

Pros: Resistant to heat and moisture, odourless, lightweight (95 to 98% of the composition of EPS is actually air) and sometimes Recyclable

Cons: Non-biodegradable and has to be recycled 

A recent spill in the Illawarra Australia, at least 2kms of EPS beans spread along the shoreline cleaned up with vacuums and by hand.


Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) is another plastic material that is easy to reshape when introduced to a certain degree of temperature. 

Pros: Extremely strong and durable. 

Cons: A tougher material, more dense (bean bag will be heavier). EPP beans are proven to be a fire hazard.

Compressed foam has evolved into memory foam over the years, due to the emergence of technology. 

Pros: Memory foam molds to a warm body to accommodate to the shape, maintaining preferred body posture.

Cons: Not suitable for bean bags of irregular shapes, unsuitable if you wish to snuggle and move within your seat.

Micro beads are made from the most common type of plastic in the world – Polyethylene. They are manufactured to be no more than 1mm in diameter.

Pros: Firm, rigid, and hard.

Cons: Micro-beads are tiny, compacted into a bean bag would result in a much heavier bean bag. They are terrible for the environment!

#Note: Micro-plastics are defined as all forms of plastics less than 5mm. Primary microplastics - microfibers from clothing, microbeads, plastic pellets (nurdles) and secondary microplastics created from the degradation of larger plastic products once they enter the environment through natural weathering.

Bean bags on a beach in Seminyak Bali

So what can you do?

  • Don’t throw out your old bean bag
  • Repair or re-cover (if damaged) over the old one to avoid opening and transferring the contents
  • If topping up the filling of your bean bag DO NOT buy more Styrofoam
  • Start thinking about what else you have around the house or come across regularly that could replace Styrofoam beads when topping up or filling your new bean bag.
  • Use a laybag instead they are filled with air.

Fill with

  • Old pillow stuffing
  • Old Doona stuffing
  • Keep and collect packaging peanuts and other annoying packaging materials 
  • Soft plastics like plastic bags
  • I have a bean bag filled with Styrofoam food trays that an ex employer kept using. Actually pretty comfortable.
  • Dried real beans
  • Old clothes 
  • Straw

A basket of cotton filling

If you’re done with the bean bag, you could 

  • Ask around if a friend would like to keep it going. 
  • Donate it to a community centre, university or library 
  • Join two together making one really full bean bag
  • We have enquired about recycling though have not had a reply (there is Styrofoam recycling in some council areas).

Push retailers and manufacturers to offer alternative filling options and to take some responsibility for taking back and recycling old bean bags.

Surely this product is a candidate for repair, re-cover and resell?

Written by Jane Fischer and Paul Hellier

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