A peek into the future of packing materials
One of our favorite things to think about is what’s next. Not just from a business perspective, but we’re always excited to see what new innovations we’ll get to be working with as inevitable waves of change transform society and the markets that we call home.
We thought we’d give you a quick look into our crystal ball and see what’s going to be protecting those full-service robots and jet packs we’ll be ordering in the future.
It’s not hard to see that sustainability is going to continue to be a focus that drives innovation in the foreseeable future. You’ve probably got the raw ingredients for the future of packaging in your house right now!
Recycled cotton fibers
While we were worried about plastic bags and bottles, our clothing waste was growing out of control. Cotton is biodegradable, but according to a federal study, it makes up 8% of the total volume of our landfills. Packaging designers have taken advantage of this material to create a cotton insulation that offers comparable performance to traditional EPS Styrofoam. You need a shell to prevent it from capturing condensation, but if done correctly, those shells can also be recycled. There’s a number of producers in the US that are already offering insulating sheets and bags made from recycled cotton fibers, so we think that you’ll see this one sooner rather than later.
Those yellow bubble-mailers have resisted the sustainability upgrade for years thanks to their composite, paper-and-plastic construction. Thankfully, researchers have found another way for corn to come to our rescue.
Using biodegradable cornstarch and PLA bioplastic, a number of producers are starting to offer compostable polybags. They can be recycled or just thrown away, which is a big improvement over the original design. Current designs only have a shelf-life of about 9 months, and they need to be stored in a dark, dry place for best results. Even with these constraints, they represent a significant advancement and we think that as researchers fine-tune the design, we’ll see the padded-mailer market completely shift over to more sustainable materials in the near future.
Do you remember when McDonalds made the news by ditching styrofoam containers in favor of paper and cardboard? Ever since then, food packaging has been a major innovation driver in sustainable materials, and bagasse is the next step in this continuing process.
Bagasse is made from the fibrous material that’s left over after the production of sugarcane. They take these fibers and mix them up in a slurry of hot water, then press it into almost any shape. Bagasse hits all the marks for a sustainable material – it incorporates existing agricultural waste, it doesn’t require any harsh chemicals like bleach or acids, and it doesn’t need to be mixed with any input-intensive products that might present its own recycling problems.
The downsides come from shipping-related carbon footprint issues. Brazil and India are the world’s two largest sugar producers, which means that your bagasse products are most likely going to require international shipping at some point. It’s also a bit heavier than paper or plastic, which means that it will require more trucks or planes to transport than an equivalent amount of lighter materials.
Everything we do at Western Industries is a custom order, so when you’re looking at your next round of packaging needs, you can be sure that we’ll tailor a product that’s specific to your situation. If you want to help make sustainability a part of your operation, give us the chance to show you how to streamline your process and go green with your packaging. We can work hand-in-hand to improve your operation and the environment that you work in every day.