Eco-Packaging Progress Report
Innovative Uses of Pulp, Paper and Mushrooms
Manufacturers need to protect their products from damage and theft, and also want them to stand out on retail shelves. A common result has been hard-to-open containers relying on excessive cardboard and plastic. Today, more manufacturers are responding to consumer requests for less packaging, making it easier on both people and the planet.
Whether shopping online or in a local store, more eco-friendly options are available and they’re worth seeking out.
In grocery stores, look for cellophane packaging made from corn, wheat or potatoes that replaces traditional plastic packaging used for candy, spices, nuts, produce and bath products. Cellulose, made from sustainably harvested wood pulp, one of nature’s most abundant materials, makes for a sturdy bio- and marine-degradable bag that is suitable for home composting. Resistant to oil, fat and grease, it is also microwavable and oven-safe at low temperatures.
Fenugreen uses antibacterial, antifungal spices infused into a tea that is soaked into clean, biodegradable FreshPaper. It works in conjunction with store packaging or storage containers to keep bread, fruit, vegetables and cheese fresh. Kavita Shukla, founder and CEO, says, “Each paper lasts about a month. A distinct, maple-like scent says the paper is actively working to keep food fresh two to four times longer than usual, preventing food waste due to spoilage.”
Quinn Snacks’ revolutionary Pure Pop Bag of microwave popcorn contains no genetically modified corn, synthetic chemicals or plastic coatings, so unlike other brands, its packaging is compostable and biodegradable. Consumers add the included salt and spices after the popping, allowing the addition of natural ingredients while maintaining the integrity of the food’s natural oil and flavor.
Food carry-out used to mean polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers, but now consumers have the safer option of pulp products that break down completely in backyard compost heaps or through commercial recycling. The pulp comes from North American-sourced hardwoods, which reduces its travel footprint and supports environmentally aware suppliers.
Mycelium, another Styrofoam substitute, uses mushroom roots as glue to hold together other sustainable, compostable agriculture byproducts like corn stalks. The result creates shipping materials that cradle wine bottles, computers and other fragile items to prevent breakage.
In beauty products, look for refillable glass jars. While glass is endlessly recyclable, it carries a large carbon footprint. Glass is heavy and must be transported, sometimes out of state, to reach a treatment plant. Furnaces capable of melting glass containers must run nonstop at about 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. Taking the time to refill glass jars saves energy and prevents greenhouse gas emissions.
Some personal products such as deodorant are available in paper push-up tubes. Standard plastic tubes can be difficult to empty completely and are sometimes made of more than one type of plastic, which makes them non-recyclable.
Eco-friendly packaging can be especially challenging for small businesses. Katherine Dexter, owner of Wild House Body Care, in College Station, Texas, says, “I needed a green product that was oil-proof and waterproof. One of the best I’ve found for wrapping solid lotion bars is an unbleached, soy waxed paper. It works as effectively as paraffin-coated waxed paper and is 100 percent biodegradable.” She uses sustainable and natural materials for all of her product packaging.
As part of the adult coloring book craze, Najeeb Kahn, founder of the Monthly Coloring Club, noticed books were shipped shrink-wrapped, so the club has switched to compostable and recycled rigid cardboard mailers.
Online mattress sales have increased from a 5 percent market share in 2016 to 10 percent in 2017, thanks to money-back guarantees, free in-home trials and innovative compressed mattress-in-a-box delivery. A mattress is squashed to fit in a box measuring 18 by 44 inches; about the size of a medium file cabinet. One person can easily carry it up stairs or around corners. Released from the box, the foam mattress expands to normal size in eight to 12 hours. The cardboard package can be reused or recycled.
Email manufacturers to either congratulate them on better choices or complain about excess. Each purchase voices an opinion. Let’s make it count.
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This article appears in the November 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.