Arlene_pArlene Placer of Hobbymasters gets playful with packing peanuts.

The roof of Hobbymasters on White Street is big, flat and unobscured by any surrounding structure. Store owner Arlene Placer and her son, Alan, hope to cover it with solar panels.

In fact, they’ve applied for a state grant to make the dream a reality. It’s a process that could take several years, but they think it’s wasteful not to harvest all that free energy from the sky.

In the meantime, they’ve got their minds on smaller matters.

Hobbymasters also has a web business, which it bills as “the world’s largest online international hobby store.” And in the past year, the business has gone — pardon the cliché — through the roof. That has spurred a lot of shipping. For the first time in the 33-year history of the business, Hobbymasters has an employee who has no interaction with store customers, says Alan. All he does is fulfill online orders.

Most of the shipping requires the use of packing peanuts to cushion fragile cargo. But the Placers balk at having to buy bagsful of the Styrofoam stuff when millions of Americans a day are just dumping them into the waste stream.

So the Placers have issued a call: Give us your spongy, clingy bits of foam!

They’ve put out the word through their business contacts and through Red Bank RiverCenter, where Arlene was long an officer. The downtown promotion agency has included the Placers’ call for peanuts in a newsletter it emails to store owners, and executive director Nancy Adams recently showed up at Hobbymasters with a big bag of peanuts.

Red Ginger Home and Athlete’s Alley, among others, have come through with the squeaky little buggers. Through Freecycle.org, an online swap meet for free stuff, Arlene got in touch with somebody in Ocean Township who had a nice stash, which she picked up on Friday while running an errand.

Also through Freecyle, she recently heard from “a guy in Brick who has a trailerful he wants to give us,” she says.

“We’re starting to get people to realize that they’re better off being reused than just thrown into the garbage,” she says.

Placer says she’ll drive to pick up the peanuts if its a worthwhile volume of them.

“To me, it seems ridiculous paying for these things when people are throwing them out,” she says.

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