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Guide to Fiber Packaging

What is Fiber Packaging? Everything You Need To Know

If you’ve been looking into sustainable and renewable food packaging, you’ve probably heard of fiber. Fiber food packaging products are some of the most environmentally-friendly options out there.

There’s a reason why General Mills committed to moving to 100% fiber packaging by 2020. Fiber-based packaging products are sustainable and comparable to traditional products in both function and aesthetics.

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In this guide, we'll answer the following questions:

  • What is fiber packaging and how is it made?
  • What are the benefits of fiber packaging?
  • What about PFAS?
  • What is the future of fiber packaging?
  • Is fiber packaging right for my business

What is fiber packaging and how is it made?

Fiber packaging is produced with reusable, renewable, or biodegradable materials. It’s primarily used in the construction, chemical, and food and beverage industries.

Fiber packaging can be made from different materials. These include recycled content (such as newspaper and cardboard) or natural fibers such as wood pulp, bamboo, bagasse, and wheat straw.

In this post, we’re going to focus on bagasse and wheat straw fiber packaging. These materials use 10 times less energy to produce than tree-based materials and are the most eco-friendly options. Each has a slightly different manufacturing process:

Molded fiber packaging made from bagasse – Bagasse comes from sugarcane production. Specifically, it is the fiber left on sugarcane stalks after the juice is extracted. The leftover fibers are blended with water until they create a pulp. That pulp is converted (via pressure and heat) to a variety of molded fiber products.

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Molded fiber packaging made from wheat straw – The process for wheat straw fiber packaging is very similar to that of bagasse. Wheat straw, a byproduct of wheat, is the leftover stalk after the wheat has been harvested. The wheat straw is turned into pulp, and that pulp can be used to create molded fiber products.

Both wheat straw and bagasse are salvaged materials. They’re parts of wheat and sugarcane that are usually burned or destroyed. When converted into molded fiber and other paper products, these once wasted natural resources are finding new life.

Also, because these two resources are byproducts of the food supply chain, their use does not affect food security.

Fiber packaging boasts a lot of other benefits, too.

What are the benefits of fiber packaging?

Around 40% of all wood is harvested for commercial and industrial use. This leads to deforestation, social conflict, biodiversity losses, water pollution, and the emission of greenhouse gases.

Nevertheless, paper products account for a large share of food service packaging materials. For example, 71% of McDonald’s packaging materials are made from paper.

Fiber product packaging provides an environmentally-friendly alternative to paper. It also provides a much-needed alternative to polystyrene (aka Styrofoam), which is detrimental to both the environment and human health.

Styrofoam takes 500 years or more to break down. It also uses 30% of the space in landfills and is made from non-renewable resources. An estimated 20% of Styrofoam never makes it to the landfill which means that it's in our oceans or cluttering up our parks and recreational space.

Styrofoam’s popularity persists because it is lightweight and cheap. Until fiber, there wasn’t an environmentally-friendly alternative.

Molded pulp packaging has other advantages for the environment and consumers too.

The environmental benefits:

  • Completely biodegradable – Both materials naturally degrade over time. Wheat straw takes around 3–12 months to biodegrade naturally. Bagasse decomposition rate varies depending on moisture and heat levels.
  • Compostable – Suitable composting facilities can compost wheat straw fiber in as little as 2–3 months and bagasse in 3 months.
  • Made from renewable resources – All fiber protective packaging is made from renewable resources.

The food packaging benefits:

  • Water and grease resistant
  • Can withstand high temperatures (up to 200°F)
  • Microwave and freezer safe
  • Impressive durability
  • Effective insulation

When you combine the functional and environmental benefits, fiber is an excellent alternative.

What about PFAS?

Let’s address the topic of PFAS (or PER- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), the human-made chemicals found in some fiber packaging. PFAS has been used in the manufacturing process of thousands of products across the globe since the 1940s - everything from nonstick cookware to microwave popcorn bags.

But, a recent study was published finding that PFAS can potentially cause health and environmental issues. Naturally, the FDA, EPA, and manufacturers responded to these findings by removing many long-chain PFAS from the market.

All food packaging materials must be approved by the FDA before it can be used. The FDA’s findings reveal that the general food supply is not overwhelmed with PFAS contamination. For now, the general scientific consensus is that we need more information to understand the entire PFAS story.

Good Start Packaging has been a leader in urging food packaging manufacturers to offer environmentally-responsible containers and to be transparent about their supply chains. Because of this influence, we've recently introduced a PFAS-free collection of fiber products. We plan to replace all fiber containers with PFAS-free versions as they become available.

What is the future of fiber packaging?

According to this 2019 report from McKinsey and Company, the fiber packaging industry looks bright.

Several major food companies have committed to using fiber packaging including McDonald’s which aims to transition to 100% fiber packaging by 2025. Consumers have also become increasingly persistent, demanding sustainability with their buying power. Sustainable packaging provides a means to meet that growing demand.

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Is fiber packaging right for my business?

If your food business currently uses any of the following items, then fiber is an ideal option:

Fiber is strong, durable and will function the same, if not better, than the containers you're using now, just without the detrimental environmental side effects. We even offer custom printed fiber clamshells to incorporate your branding for a memorable customer experience.

At Good Start Packaging, we’re committed to supplying high-quality wheat straw and bagasse fiber products at an affordable rate. Contact us to learn more about how our fiber packaging can help meet your sustainability goals.

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