The bean bag is one of the oldest concepts for toys, with the simplest method of construction: a fabric bag filled with dried beans, and used as a doll or a ball. In the 1960s, the bean bag concept was adapted to furniture, and the bean bag chair has remained a favorite for kids' rooms and college dorms. Most bean bags today are filled with a variety of different synthetic materials to make them lighter in weight than their traditional counterparts. Bean bag filling is most commonly made of polystyrene beads, although other types of filling are available. You can opt for a natural filling for your bean bag, which saves you money while keeping our planet a little cleaner.
The most common and widely available kind of synthetic bean bag filling is polystyrene beads. These small foam beads shift and move easily, which gives the bean-bag chair its signature, body-hugging comfort. Polystyrene beads can be purchased in "virgin" varieties, which are new, unused beads manufactured specifically for use as a bean bag filling. Recycled beads are also available; this type of bean bag filler is made from excess or leftover polystyrene from other manufacturing processes. It undergoes regrinding and reshaping so that it feels similar to virgin beads, but usually costs less, and it saves factory waste from ending up in the landfills.
Another widely available bean bag filling is shredded foam filler. It is typically made from polyurethane foam, similar to the foam that is used in couches and chairs. The foam is shredded into small pieces and bounces back into shape after it is flattened, which means your bean bag chair will not need to be refilled as often. The resulting chair has a different feel than a traditional bean bag chair; more cushiony, but less fluid than polystyrene beads. As a compromise, you can purchase mixed filler that contains both shredded foam and polystyrene beads, combining the advantages of both types of synthetic filler.
If you're looking for green alternatives to foam beads for bean bag toys, there are many natural alternatives such as dried peas, beans, rice, or unpopped popcorn. Be aware that natural, food-based fillings may attract pests, and will need extra protection against moisture damage. These fillings may be too heavy for bean bag chairs, but you still have a green option: recycle items in your home. Styrofoam packing peanuts, a cut-up foam mattress topper, and even extra plastic grocery bags can be used to puff up your flattened bean bag chair. A quick look around your home or neighborhood will probably uncover many other materials that can be recycled to use in your chair, saving you money while protecting the environment.