Polystyrene, commonly referred to as "Styrofoam", takes decades to hundreds of years to dissolve and is one of the world's most considerable environmental problems. Polystyrene is a thermoplastic material made from petroleum-derived styrene and is non-biodegradable. It is difficult to estimate how much polystyrene there is in the world, however, the Earth Resource Foundation reports that Styrofoam manufacturers were the fifth largest producer of toxic waste in 1986. Unfortunately Styrofoam is still widely used across the world, from cups and plates to packaging and more, as it is typically less expensive than other products and weighs significantly less which aids in reduced shipping costs. Thankfully there are several companies around the world working on finding eco-friendly, cost-effective substitutions to replace this harmful product.
Ecovative Design, a New York-based company, has created a biodegradable alternative to conventional polystyrene (or Styrofoam) using inedible by-products of agricultural crops like seed husks. The material is grown using these by-products and mycelium which is a fungal network of threadlike cells, like the "roots" of mushrooms. In 5 – 7 days, in the dark with no watering and no petrochemical inputs, the mycelium digests the agricultural by-products binding them into a structural material. The mycelium acts like a natural, self-assembling glue. The material can then be grown into any shape needed. Every cubic inch of material contains a matrix of 8 miles of tiny mycelial fibers, and at the end of the process the materials are heat treated to stop the growth and ensure there will never be any spores or allergen concerns. From beginning to end, the mushroom material fits into nature’s recycling system. Composting, mulching, or throwing away are all environmentally sound options of disposal because the product is made of natural materials that belong in a healthy ecosystem.
Naturpack, an Ontario-based company, has created a loose fill packing product that is very similar to the polystyrene pellets (or "peanuts" or "beans") found in many shipments. Corn is the primary product used in creating their product, which boasts anti-vibration and shock absorbing qualities. Naturpak is reusable and recycled, is manufactured without chemicals, and is environmentally friendly when disposed. To make the loose fill, first the corn must be crushed and the germ removed by sifting. The corn is then ground to a powder so the pulverized corn can then be put directly into the plant. The corn is heated in a pressure chamber and released in a way that produces and creates uniform pieces of loose fill. The process is based on unmodified starch in a pure mechanical production process without additives. The process can be altered by the addition of specific additives to achieve desired results.
EnviroPak, a Missouri-based company, has utilized recycled products to create their eco-friendly packaging. Molded pulp is made from 100% recycled newspaper and is 100% recyclable and 100% biodegradable. It has been used to package delicate items such as eggs and light bulbs for years, however, recently has become more prominent in the shipping industry. Molded pulp can be shaped to fit any product and is highly shock resistant. The stock preparation process is closely related to that of a small paper mill. For full details on how the molded pulp is made please visit http://www.enviropak.com/Molded_Process.html