Foam Peanuts

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Learners compare the properties and solubilities of Styrofoam (TM), ecofoam packing peanuts, and popcorn. First, the solubility of each substance is tested in water. A drop of iodine is added to each solution and a color change indicates the presence of starch. Only the biodegradable substances dissolve in water, and the iodine test indicates these substances were made from starch. Acetone is needed to "dissolve" the Styrofoam, and even with a drop of acetone, it does not dissolve completely. For safety reasons, this activity works best as a demonstration for younger audiences.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
Under 5 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration, Experiment/Lab Activity


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Three 50-ml beakers
  • Three 400-ml plastic beakers
  • One 250-ml squeeze bottle
  • Two 30-ml plastic dropper bottles
  • Two wooden stirring sticks
  • Povidone iodine topical solution (keep 100 ml on hand)
  • Acetone (keep 200 ml on hand)
  • StyrofoamTM peanuts (keep a full cardboard box, or about 10 gallons, on hand)
  • Biofoam peanuts (keep a full cardboard box; or about 10 gallons, on hand)
  • One 10-ml plastic graduated cylinder
  • Popped Popcorn (keep about 64 oz on hand)
  • Three 1-gallon resealable plastic storage bags


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Environmental Engineering
  • Life Sciences
    • Ecology
      • Human Impact
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Chemical Reactions
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and the Environment

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation