When a company produces a product there is an important step of getting that product to the consumer. In order to protect the product in this step of the product life cycle companies have developed various packing processes that utilize many different products. These products include anything from packing peanuts and Styrofoam. Both of these products are made of a material called polystyrene. Polystyrene is a cousin to plastic, and helped to revolutionize the packing industry due to it being extremely light weight, easily formable, and cheap to make. At at a first glance it is easy to understand why this material was so widely used, and why its negative side effects where so easily looked over. Polystyrene being a cousin to plastic carries the same attribute of being very slow to biodegrade even when disposed on properly.
As a result of this attribute there has been a recent push against the use of Styrofoam in packaging throughout the united states. An example of this is in Seattle Washington where they banned the use of polystyrene products; “The City of Seattle requires all food service businesses to find recyclable or compostable packaging alternatives to all disposable food service items such as containers, cups, and other products.” The food service packaging requirement document becomes more specific later on when it goes over the band items; “The foam ban, which bans expanded polystyrene (EPS, sometimes called “Styrofoam”), took effect January 1, 2009. The ban on non-recyclable and/or non-compostable disposable food packaging and service ware took effect July 1, 2010.” On January 1st 2009 this major step in Seattle forced companies and resturaunt to look for a more sustainable form of packaging.
At this point the question comes up of where would a company go to find a new type of product packaging that would fit the new laws in the Seattle area, or any other city that has adopted a similar law banning the use of polystyrene. I got my answer to this question when we visited Material ConneXtion. A particular material that caught my eye during our time exploring the library of materials was the packaging made from agricultural waste materials which is produced by living ogananisms. This includes cotton burrs, rice hulls, and buckwheat hulls, all of which are high in lignin which provides a medium for fungal mycelium, the root of mushroom. The caption bellow the material explained that this could be used as a sustainable replacement for Styrofoam and packing peanuts. After seeing this material, I became interested in finding other replacements for packing materials, especially packing materials that are made out of polystyrene.
After searching the web, I found out that there is a substitute for packing peanuts which is made of corn starch. This change in material allows for the once hard to dispose of packaging product to being easily compostable. There is one downside to this shift away from polystyrene, which is that the new corn starch formula is much heavier making it slightly more difficult to ship products with.
Has your hometown put any bans on certain types of packaging? If so what are they and have they found any alternatives?