Opportunity for Change

eco cardboard

According to data provided by the EPA, cardboard tops the list as the largest component of municipal solid waste worldwide. It may come as no surprise that over 90% percent of all products shipped in the United States are packed, at least partially, in cardboard. The raw material used almost ubiquitously to manufacture cardboard is pulp that has been extracted from trees.

As a paper product, the manufacturing of cardboard puts a huge dent in the world’s tree population. There is an estimated 4 billion trees cut down each year to satisfy the world’s paper needs. Although cardboard is readily recyclable, and the recycling rate in the US is at an all-time high, the average cardboard box only contains 25% to 35% recycled content. Recycling of cardboard is critical because if landfilled it creates methane, a greenhouse gas with a global warming capacity 21 times greater than carbon dioxide. Generally speaking, cardboard can be recycled up to five times before the fibers shrink and become too short to bond into new material. What happens to the spent cardboard fibers after they are no longer viable for use? They are typically landfilled or incinerated.

Since trees are essential for preserving our planet’s oxygen levels, reducing CO2, and helping to maintain water cycles worldwide, it is a no-brainer that reducing the use of virgin cardboard material is very important. With continued human population growth and the insatiable appetite of industry not diminishing, alternatives need to be sought for reducing the environmental impact of cardboard. Redirecting members of the value chain to alternate feedstock’s can have an immediate positive effect, especially through early adopters with high-volume cardboard consumption. One such feedstock that ranks highly as an alternative to trees is wheat straw. To convert wheat straw it requires approximately 40 percent less energy and almost 90 percent less water when compared to the chemical pulping of trees. Like bamboo, wheat is fast growing and is a readily renewable material. Unfortunately, the wheat straw content of cardboard is only hovering around 15% currently, which isn’t a bad start, but not a replacement for tree-based cardboard yet. Only a handful of companies in the world are exploring the wheat straw approach, most notably Dell Computers.

As a small company, Effekt is currently committing a lot of research effort and what resources it has to offering tree-free cardboard in the near term. Our company’s sole focus in this area is on a 100% tree-free alternative sourced from a plentiful non-GMO waste stream. The waste stream that we are focused on is derived from the husk of a rapidly growing and readily renewable plant native to many parts of the world. The virgin crop that creates our waste steam feedstock renews in less than a year ensuring a nearly endless supply of renewable resources. Compare that to slower growing tree farms, sustainably managed or not, which take decades to reach full maturity (depending upon soil and climatic conditions) and that also use large quantities of water and fertilizers in their longer growing cycles. Tree-free cardboard trials have shown high resistance values (strength) comparable to that of conventional tree-based cardboard. Not only that, but the tree-free cardboard is proven to biodegrade faster than conventional tree-based cardboard. As far as potential validations go, tree-free cardboard exceeds the environmental parameters set forth by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Next up in Effekt’s quest for environmental improvement in the cardboard arena is to overhaul the glue used to bond cardboard seams. Further still, we aim to audit the chain-of-custody to authenticate our Cradle-to-Cradle objective. More details will be shared very soon…

-Rob Falken

REFERENCES:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Municipal Solid Waste in the United States; 2009 Facts and Figures; December 2010 http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2009rpt.pdf

Wastes – Resource Conservation – Common Wastes & Materials – Paper Recycling http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/paper/faqs.htm

Turning Wheat Waste Into Packaging: http://www.dell.com/learn/us/en/uscorp1/corp-comm/wheat-straw

GreenFacts.org: Scientific Facts on Forests http://www.greenfacts.org/en/forests/index.htm#2

IPCC, Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing,” Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis of Climate Change, ed. S. Solomon et. al., (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007): 212