By now, most of you may have read about the agreement in late June 2012 between Sealed Air Corporation and Ecovative Design. Ecovative is the brainchild of Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, and they make EcoCradle Mushroom Packaging. This innovative product is made of mushroom roots and agricultural waste. Sealed Air will be the exclusive licensee to expedite the production, sales, and distribution of Ecovative’s EcoCradle Mushroom Packaging.

Sealed Air is a world leader in specialty materials; one of which is protective packaging. Their interest in this new Mushroom Packaging shows that the new technology will become an important part of their portfolio of sustainable packaging options. 

As consumers are becoming more and more environmentally conscious, entrepreneurs will be more likely to develop new products, technologies, and processes that will enhance or replace ones that we have now that are harmful to our environment. I am excited about Ecovative’s new technology (see sidebar) not only because it makes packaging material that replaces its synthetic counterpart, but also it can be grown in any shape in about a week. Nothing needs to be harvested from the earth for the manufacturing process. It is cost-competitive, and it can be composted into your garden.

Another great product on the market is the biodegradable packing peanuts made from industrial grade corn. It provides the same protection capabilities as its polystyrene peanut counterpart. Starchtech, a Golden Valley, Minnesota company not only manufactures these biodegradable packing peanuts but also go a step further by making available a cost-effective machine that allows you to make your own biodegradable peanuts with their special rice-sized pellets. A pallet of pellets can make the equivalent of 23 pallets of peanuts, allowing for a smaller carbon footprint in the delivery of the peanuts. So, one truckload of pellets is equal to 23 truckloads of peanuts, saving the cost of both fuel and labor.

One of the up and coming materials that not very many people are using is packaging products made of bamboo. Dell is already using packaging made from bamboo to ship some of their mini netbooks with plans for more products to be using bamboo packaging in the future. The reason Dell likes this product is that it is very strong. It has a tensile strength similar to that of steel, making it a perfect material for protecting their products in transit. Again, this is a biodegradable product that is cost-effective and very sustainable. According to the American Bamboo Society, bamboo, which is a member of the grass family, can grow up to 47 inches in one day in optimal conditions but generally grows about one to two feet per day. I think that more companies need to be looking at bamboo for their packaging needs since it has so much potential.

Subaru decided in 2004 to create zero landfill waste from their plants. They asked everyone in the company to come up with ideas of how to reuse, recycle, and eliminate waste. It was and still is a success because they were determined to make it happen. The shipping industry can do its part to be friendly to the environment by seeking out and using biodegradable, reusable, recyclable, and sustainable products. All it takes is for buyers of packaging products to be aware of what is available to them and then support the manufacturers of these types of items. Innovators such as Ecovative Design will continue to produce new technologies that are good for the environment because there is a demand for them. 

The future of sustainable packaging looks promising with all the new advancements being made. Next time you are ready to buy new packaging products for your shipping operations, you may be surprised at how many options you have for sustainable products.