Environmental issues have created a market demand for renewable and recyclable packaging products. Retailers such as Walmart, Target Lowes, and many product manufacturers including Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Procter & Gamble, now use buying criteria that address packaging sustainability issues such as, life cycle analysis, greenhouse gases, and energy consumption.
As a result, many companies are turning to the use of renewable molded-fiber (pulp) packaging products. For almost 100 years , molded-fiber packaging made of recycled newspapers (ONP) and old corrugated containers (OCC), was used primarily to produce protective packaging for plant pots, furniture, the familiar egg cartons and other products. Molded-fiber packaging products are vacuum formed on screened molds using primarily fiber and water.
Today, hundreds of products are being packaged using molded recycled and virgin fiber materials. In addition to providing product protection during shipment, they are used to improve packaging operations and reduce warehouse storage space. Food service items such as bowls, plates, trays and clamshell containers manufactured with molded fiber also are increasingly being used worldwide.
Many kinds of electronic, household appliances and business machines are now packaged with renewable molded fiber, instead of plastic packaging materials. Television sets, computers, cell phones, printers and DVD equipment are shipped throughout the world using protective molded fiber packaging.
The strong demand for molded-fiber packaging has spurred advancements in the technology for molded fiber products. New types of molding machinery have been developed with significantly improved production efficiency and product quality. Manufacturing improvements have resulted in better product performance and capabilities, along with cost reductions.
In addition to these molded-fiber products and equipment engineering developments, new fibers have been introduced into molded fiber (pulp) manufacturing industry. Because of the strong concerns for "sustainability," packaging products produced using sugar cane, palm, reed and bamboo fibers are now coming into the market, with other high yield fibers on the horizon.
With new uses for the "old" molded-fiber (pulp) material being implemented throughout the world the future of molded fiber packaging is bright, with many opportunities for sustainability initiatives.
Joe Grygny, author of this article, is chairman of Intl Molded Fiber Assn.