I’ve gone to great lengths to save money on packing materials for the breakables I’ve sold on eBay. I’ve crumpled newspapers until my hands were sore and black with ink, shredded newspapers until my yard-sale shredder overheated, hacked to pieces foam coolers from Omaha Steaks, and crammed small boxes into larger boxes just to take up space so I didn’t have to crumble/shred/hack quite so much filler material. It was only when I found myself seriously considering cushioning a set of Homer Laughlin dishes with the leftover straw from my garden that I realized I had to come up with a better, long-term solution.
One day I was at Jo-Ann’s and noticed that the boxes their framed pictures come in were filled with packing peanuts. I asked the woman unpacking the boxes what they did with the peanuts, and she said they threw them away. She started saving them for me after that, and I’d go once a week to pick up what had been saved the previous week. I went through a period where I was regularly shipping more breakables than I had peanuts for, so I sought out another source–and found it at MailBoxes Etc. on Baughman’s Lane. They sell (huge!) 14-cubic-foot bags of recycled peanuts for $20–a great deal (compared to Staples, which charges $8 for a two-cubic-foot bag).
If you ship breakables on a fairly regular basis, you’ll either want to find your own source of free peanuts (framing shops are a good bet), or buy them from MailBoxes, Etc. (I no longer get mine from Jo-Ann’s, so they may have started throwing them away again.) Packing peanuts do an excellent job of cushioning breakables, they’re quick and easy to use, and if you can get them cheap why use anything else?