Oct. 10, 2014 7:29 am
Anyone who’s ever had a new PC or laptop delivered knows it comes with a heck of a lot of packaging. You’ve typically got the outer cardboard box, then the polystyrene protecting the device and holding it in place, and then the device is further protected inside a plastic bag. The outer cardboard may be easily recycled, but the polystyrene and plastic usually aren’t. However, that’s not the case for Dell products.
There’s a good chance if you buy a new Dell product today that the only man-made thing you receive is whatever product was ordered. The polystyrene we are all so used to seeing has been replaced by one of two natural products depending on the type of protection needed.
The first is mycelium, which is the root system part of mushroom growth. The roots are not wanted by the mushroom farms so they are happy to pass them on for use elsewhere. The mycelium is placed into a mould and mushroom spawn added. There’s enough food (carbs and sugars) left in the mycelium for the spawn to grow, fill the mould, and produce a piece of protective packaging that looks very much like polystyrene, but feels like mushroom skin.
Using mushroom roots and spawn means the final packaging is by default completely biodegradable, but Dell has also found it’s better than polystyrene. Because the packaging is grown rather than manufactured it can flex without breaking and is generally more durable. And one final bonus? It’s flame retardant without adding any chemicals.
The second packaging product is wheatgrass. This is a byproduct of wheat production and farmers just want to get rid of it however they can, which can mean burning it. Dell sources packaging that looks like moulded cardboard from a company called YPFJupiter, but it’s actually made from wheatgrass which farmers are paid for–meaning they won’t burn it because it’s now worth money to them. Again, the final product is biodegradable and Dell says there’s more than enough of the stuff available to fulfill packaging needs.
The final biodegradable product Dell uses is also the most unusual. It’s a plastic called AirCarbon, only it’s completely green and removes emissions from the atmosphere. It is manufactured by drawing the carbon out of the methane produced when cows fart and combining it with air. But any source of methane can be used e.g. methane emanating from a landfill.
The finished product supplied to Dell is a plastic bag that uses no oil, stops greenhouse gases before they enter the atmosphere, and ends up being cheaper to produce than oil-based plastics. As the video above demonstrates, it can also be used to create tough plastic-like resins, so I see no reason AirCarbon couldn’t be used in the future for electronic device casings.
These companies producing such packaging need to be supported because what they are doing is fantastic: replacing products dependent on oil with a sustainable alternative that relies on products that until now have either been classed as waste or added to our emissions. Dell also needs to be commended for choosing to go green with its packaging in this way, and hopefully others will follow.[Mushroom packaging image courtesy of Stephen P Nock
mushroom and wheatgrass packaging picture from Fiona Graham]