Material recovery is a key factor in reducing the amount of natural resources harvested and lowering carbon footprints. Of all municipal solid waste collected, only ~24% is recycled (United States EPA). Much more of this could likely be recycled, but systemic limitations prevent this from happening. Low material recovery and recycling rates fuel the need for the continued production of virgin (aka “new”) materials and adds to environmental stressors. Fortunately, paper has a high material recovery rate. Corrugate (cardboard) recovery rate is around 96-98%. The Bubble Paper™ Paper IceBox™ is recycled in the same waste stream and therefore has a very high likelihood of material recovery and recycling.
Bubble Paper™ cushioning wrap and padded shipping mailers are also curbside recyclable along with other mixed papers. We believe paper is the most logical material choice for creating innovative, highly recyclable single use shipping solutions.
While many plastic and bio-plastic films are technically recyclable, challenges exist with how to reprocess and reuse the materials at the end of the product lifecycle. Four of the primary challenges preventing proper recycling are:
• Poor material recovery rates (recycling rates)
• Sorting machine compatibility at recycling facilities.
• Low domestic and international material market value compared to reprocessing and logistics costs.
• Shrinking international market for plastic waste.
Without significant advancements in technology and infrastructure that allow single-bin recycling programs to accept plastic films in a cost effective way, it is likely that plastic film waste will continue entering landfills and the natural environment.
Starch-based foams are a good alternative to plastic styrofoam / EPS, which is said to use up to 30% of all existing landfill space and can take upwards of 500 years to decompose. However, because starch-based foams are water soluble, they dissolve in the recycling process and introduce large amounts of starch into water treatment facilities. At scale this can potentially cause issues with water quality and sanitation. Additionally, starch-based foams are made with food crops or other organic materials that must be grown using mono-crop agricultural practices in order to be cost effective. This diverts food and land away from food production and towards packaging. In a world with rampant food insecurity and economic inequality that limits access to nutritious foods, we believe that utilizing paper is a more logical and responsible choice for producing packaging at a scale that supports global supply chains.
Paper production presents its own share of significant environmental challenges. These range from regulating proper timber management practices, to high energy consumption, high water consumption, and chemical usage during processing. However, we feel that the benefits gained from paper recycling programs make it an ideal material for single use packaging — especially when the means of properly recycling the material is nearly effortless for the end user.
According to the United States EPA, virgin paper can be recycled on average 5-7 times before the pulp fiber can no longer be used. This is great, and recycled paper should be used whenever and wherever possible. However, recycled paper cannot be used for all paper products. The quality of the paper decreases each time it is recycled and it becomes easy to tear as the fibers shorten. It is too weak to be used effectively in some products.
Fortunately, paper of any grade is much more likely than plastic film or starch-based foams to be recycled multiple times into new value-added products.