If you've ever been subjected to the unfortunate experience of using a paper straw, you were most likely left with the straw disintegrating as you were using it. (Mushy straws are nasty.)
Some things just aren't as good as plastic.
But with the current environmental push, as well as the intense research around the world, promising alternatives for plastics are showing up more and more with packaging, using cellulose and cardboard in the spotlight.
But how do these latest innovations stack up? Are they improved over the paper straw?
The packaging conundrum is one key area where researchers around the world are focusing their efforts: because while plastic packaging keeps moisture out it (generally) isn't recyclable, and cardboard packaging is recyclable, but doesn't keep moisture out. The question has now become, how can biodegradable, plastic-like qualities be applied, coated, or layered onto cardboard packaging? And how can it be done for less than the price of traditional plastic packaging?
Penn State's research is developing an inexpensive biomaterial that can be used to sustainably replace plastic barrier coatings in packaging, and many other applications. This biomaterial is completely compostable - it's a polysaccharide polyelectrolyte complex, and is made up of nearly equal parts of treated cellulose pulp from wood or cotton, and chitosan, derived from chitin (the main ingredient in the exoskeletons of arthropods and crustaceans).
Researchers predict their biomaterial development, in place of traditional plastic barrier coatings, would greatly reduce pollution. They just need to persuade industry to give it a try.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Danish brewers of Carlsberg beer have an entirely different idea of how to implement pulp for recycling.
They're changing their bottle. The outer shell of the beer bottle is actually made of wood fiber, and the inner lining is made of plant-based polymers. The entire bottle is recyclable, except for the cap. If you want to try it, fly to Europe - Carlsberg pilsner beer is in a few test markets now, and will be in full production with fiber bottles in 2024.
We've come a long way - from disintegrating paper straws to being on the verge of having plastic-free packaging, and a fully recyclable beer bottle with a wood fiber outer lining. Cellulose and pulp are in the forefront of the away-from-plastic movement (as it should be).
And can these new innovations help your mill, either now or possibly in the future? There's a wealth of activity and research in this area. Can any of these coatings possibly be applied at the mill? Who knows what my happen as the research is refined? It's well worth considering, especially now.