Companies are looking to the future and are coming up with new packaging material, such as biodegradable products like cardboard and molded fiber that increase the overflow of landfills and methane gas. Many more company’s need to adopt more environmentally friendly packaging materials for shipping products.

In these times of isolation with COVID-19, an increase of shopping online and curb side pickup has been noted. People are receiving more packages delivered by mail or private carrier, causing an increase in packaging materials to be disposed of in our landfills and producing large amounts of methane gas caused by the biodegradable packaging material and organic compost.

About one third of an average dump is filled with packaging materials and 65% of household trash is represented by packaging material. There is a landfill in Hamilton County, Ohio towering 1,045 feet above sea level. Called Rumpke Sanitary Landfill, it is the highest point in the county (University Southern Indiana). To help with this problem, new packaging materials are being found and used.

There are three types of packaging material that comes with most products mailed or delivered. First is primarily a bubble wrap or plastic covering that comes in contact with the product. Secondary is the branding display like the cardboard box with the company’s logo on it, and logistical information. The third is the handling and transportation of the secondary packages. This is done in order to group everything together into one package that is wrapped with plastic and cardboard.

A company (RyPax) has specialized in molded fibers made from coregulated pulp, paper, and fast-growing fibers such as bamboo, bagasse, and reeds. The product can be molded into a coffee carrier, egg cartons, and many other packaging materials. They are a sustainable product and 100% recyclable and biodegradable. Although, there are risks with some of these new biodegradable products.

For one, there may be some confusion between the non-biodegradable and biodegradable products such as plastics and cardboard causing contamination in the recyclables. The other is that biodegradable packaging materials may produce methane in landfills. Methane leaks into the air before being used and it absorbs the sun’s heat, consequently warming the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide methane is also considered a greenhouse gas. Some landfills produce greenhouse gases that are 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide which contributes to Asthma and other health problems. Landfill gas is a natural byproduct.

Landfill gas is composed of 50% carbon dioxide, 50% methane and a small amount of a nonmethane organic compound. With an energy project it can be captured, converted, and used as a renewable energy resource. There are 565 operational landfill gas energy projects with only 475 as good candidates. We have an enormous amount of packaging material going into our landfills. Thanks to the specialization of packaging products, companies packaging materials have become biodegradable and recyclable. There is still a buildup of methane, though, and that is still something that we need to deal with. The energy projects are helping with the greenhouse gases, but it is not enough. Companies need to find more solutions to adopting environmentally friendly packaging materials.

Essay by: Tammy Barrett
University of Phoenix

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