Biorefining – in a nutshell this is what wood chips and pulp waste disintegrate to – lignin and cellulose. Lignin can then be used in the form of various fibers, resins even as some additives to construction cement mixes. The real potential comes from cellulose – it contains sugar and that makes it ultra-valuable for the chemical industry since it is the major building block there. Such sugars are in the heart of almost any plastics and polymers used by automotive, household and really almost any industrial application.
The immediate power of biorefining comes from the fact that the chemical industry is interested in finding alternatives to fossil fuels. While at first thought making plastics from trees is counter intuitive, such methods of raw material supply are one of the ways to sustainable bio-chemistry. When waste pulp is transformed into glycol and then into polymers, resins etc., this actually completes the manufacturing loop and gets close to waste-less industrial manufacturing. Some side uses of glycol are in the making of paper gloss which often makes large cardboard boxes strong, durable and increases printing quality. What is more, glycols are also found in regular household waste such as polyethylene terephthalate or the all popular PET or PETE with resin code 01 found on the bottom of many plastic beverage bottles. If only someone can reach into the great Pacific garbage patch and start re-manufacturing! Future would show whether PET, wood chips and pulp can be manufactured in the same facility in order to extract the almighty glycol.
Naturally while all these latest developments in bio-chemistry sound really exciting, they have to be economically viable. This means that production of glycol from sugar and pulp must compete in price and quality with its petroleum counterparts.
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Trivial as this may sound, this topic is important as cardboard boxes tend to be awkward to lift especially when they are large. Cardboard, or corrugated fiberboard, has different characteristics according to its design purpose. Some such features are puncture resistance, edge crust test, fire or water retardation qualities etc. Properly manufactured boxes tend to get heavier and sturdier with size as their corrugated flutes are denser and in more layers. Extra large items, such as furniture or large appliances can come with wooden boards to support their contents. Using special packing tape with plastic filaments and regular plastic strapping is also the norm here when loads get heavy or of custom requirements.
Here are some proper lifting techniques for lifting properly:
- lift with your legs – what that really means is that you actually have to squat next to the box or bend your knees as much as you can. That offloads the weight to your legs as opposed to your back
- stand up with your legs and go underneath the weight as opposed to trying to straighten your back with it. A great example here are the heavy weight-lifters – they literally slide below their weights
- even a lighter box can cause trouble when you least expect it. Follow above steps to keep your back healthy
- a nice thick belt always helps and so do steel toes and knee pads although they can be somewhat irrelevant when we are at home just moving stuff around
- depending on how far you need to travel with your oversized cardboard box, keep your knees bent and be extra careful with steps – especially going downstairs as the weight of the load tends to move forward and lower
- once destination has been reached lower in the box in the same manner – using your legs and knees
Lifting heavy and bulky items over your head should be avoided for evident safety reasons. Falling backwards when perched on a stool or chair while holding a box with fragile items that belong to the honey looks least attractive to the opposite gender and scores very few points. Instead, stick to checklist above.
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When one loses a laptop and starts searching for options, all sorts of information becomes available. One is that getting a laptop with a matte screen is nearly impossible anymore. All are glossy and the traditional business travel machines are extra expensive and rare. So much for the bad news. Good news is that there have been major improvements on the packaging. That includes the cardboard boxes, polystyrene, foamy keyboard/screen protectors and the actual elements which go inside the circuitry. These last internal elements are actually regulated quite heavily and now there are extensive test procedures to ensure that they live up to the legal base requirements.
There are a few bodies, standards and policies which are relevant. Restriction of Hazardous Substances (ROHS) Directive is ratified in 2003 in Europe and compliance becomes mandatory for all member EU countries in 2006. Other countries such as Turkey, choose to abide by it also. It regulates application of six controlled materials which are considered hazardous. These were briefly touched on in the post on solar compactors– mercury, cadmium ,lead, polybrominated biphenyls (used for fire prevention), hexavalent chromium and polybrominated diphenyl ether. Appliances and devices which fall under this regulation are across all verticals of consumer and enterprise electronics, toys, telephone equipment, alarm and signaling systems, lighting, dispensers and semiconductors. Some solar panels and medical equipment are exempt from this regulation due to trade specifics.
The ROHS directive is closely in conjunction with Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive. The latter picks up from where ROHS leaves and regulates proper recycling, reduce and collection of regulated items. The trouble comes from a fact similar to the North Atlantic garbage patch where a huge number of plastics and polymers of all sorts have surfaced on the Atlantic with a similar problem in the Pacific Ocean. While electronics are great and help us stay connected, telecommute and have many other advantages – they have spread too much. With the development of the BRIC countries with their numerous population and close to middle class status – there will be more and more devices manufactured and ultimately recycled or disposed of. This regulation of hazardous materials which go into electronics is a step in the right direction since this e-waste will no longer need to be treated as special and need attention and separation.
Electronics manufacturers have in a sense taken upon themselves on how to implement this directive – mostly in marketing terms. There are many devices which now claim that they are ROHS compliant or that the circuit boards, panels, battery are free of hazmats and their packaging is eco friendly and the small cardboard boxes come from recycled fibers. It is a bit controversial since some of the controlled materials are actually used as fire retardant when mixed in polymers. Since computers tend to run at high temperatures, this is an important factor. Hopefully the new electronics will be safe to the environment and to users also.
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This web blog will temporarily deviate from the issues of large cardboard boxes and corrugated fiberboard. Nevertheless, the topic remains valid and is relevant. A recent TV commercial shows a waste management person driving an electric garbage truck doing the usual curbside collection by taking all post consumer waste to an incinerator. The latter burns off the household disposal items at high temperature and manufactures electricity which in turn provides resources for powering the garbage collection vehicles. Rather neat idea if cost can be controlled within a reason.
A similar idea is shown on the picture below. This modern three-compartment mini dumpster is a pretty sight and a piece of the art waste management achievement. It is designed with a solar panel in one section providing enough power to drive a piston-style action or a press for the comingled items inside. Paper products such as corrugated cardboard or even newsprint and magazines go in the right section while recyclables such as bottles and cans go to the left. The compactor section is in the middle and appears to require no human intervention to activate except for maybe empty the liner at the scheduled intervals. Great advantage here is the fact that regular garbage collection times and crews differ from those of the folks who collect the plastics and recycled paper. This means that the compactor would naturally pack more items in the same trash bag allowing for less frequent trips by the curbside collection crew. In addition, it will simply fit more within a certain time frame, allowing for less messy areas around it and keeping the original good look of the device.
These solar compactors have a call-home feature similar to some larger mainframe computers or relevant devices in need of constant monitoring. This option will not only signal for needed service or repairs – it would also send the waste management trucks away if it is not full up to a level and optimize delivery routes and planning ultimately keeping less oversize vehicles on the road and helping traffic. Another great benefit here is that loads which are to be picked up are nicely packed and space inside garbage collection trucks is optimized eliminating bulky light loads which are rather inefficient for waste management teams. What is more, these perfected and sustainable dumpsters are made in the US by a company out of Massachusetts and claim to be RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive) compliant. This directive strictly regulates contents of substances such as mercury, cadmium ,lead, polybrominated biphenyls (used for fire prevention) in products for both indoor and outdoor usage. The solar compactors are not only efficient – they are safe to use with no side effects and unregulated elements used in their circuitry.
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It appears that while European efforts in recycling and reduce, reuse, recycle are undoubtedly successful, there is a fundamentally different approach of how and why to recycle the cardboard boxes which were dropped off at your door yesterday. Arguably, Austria, Switzerland and Germany excel at recycling efforts and results. All green initiatives are strictly regulated and enforced by the iron fist of the law. Almost to a point where recycling becomes and obsession – a recent case in Austria was a perfect example. A person dropped their bank card statement together with some receipts into the regular trash as opposed to getting the paper recycled properly. The law responded almost immediately by issuing a hefty fine for this violation and the person learned their lesson the hard way.
On the other hand, recycling efforts in North America appear to be a bit more user friendly and better explained and encouraged. Examples are the many bottle buy-back programs where recycled plastics, glass and packaging is taken back to recycling centers and re-manufactured. In addition, there are many green organizations who follow events and inform the public of the latest research and even influence marketing and purchasing decisions over time as to which products are more environmentally friendly. People across the water appear to recycle and collect garbage separately simply because they believe in the process, not because someone sends tickets for recycling deviations.
There are some technicalities in the recycling process also. In Canada, for example, according to a 1996 detailed survey by the Canadian Council of their Ministry of the Environment, 13 percent of all solid waste is packaging. This would include, large and small cardboard boxes, shipping containers, bubble wrap, packaging paper and even some hard to recycle elements such as polystyrene sheets or packaging peanuts which are used as void and loose fill when preparing parcels. Also, majority of households are equipped with five different containers to separate trash and alleviate curbside collection by waste management – one large bag for newsprint, one for all other paper products including flattened corrugated cardboard boxes, one for recycling (this includes plastics and glass), one for yard trimmings (also organic refuse such as potato peels, egg shells etc) and one for everything else.
On the plastics – this are typically polymers with resin code from one to seven where some items such as resin code 7 are fine to go in the comingled trash since this is biodegradable plastics. In addition, resin code 3 is polyvinyl chloride or just PVC which is not really recyclable as it is known to cause issues including carcinogenic compounds when buried in landfills. Polystyrene is also an interesting category by being such a bulky and light item – its resin code is 6 and some of its flavors, such as expanded polystyrene, are almost non-recyclable.
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As it turns out – it can. New paper and plastics technology is geared towards lower cost and greener alternatives and this blog is particularly interested in materials which are related to cardboard boxes and packaging supplies in general. Plastic polymers and derivatives such as polystyrene are examples.
New research points to a special blend of mushrooms and crop waste material which could be a full-merit substitute for certain plastic polymers. While no technical data is provided yet, the new plastic packaging is allegedly of equal performance and reliability as its petroleum counterparts. Raw materials for the plastic surrogate are waste materials such as corn husks and leftovers from papermaking crops such as jute and cotton. Key here is leftovers and not plants and crops specifically grown to match paper packaging demand. In other words, no valuable trees will have to be taken down for more agricultural land to become available. What is more, this style of new manufacturing can be customized relevant to geographical peculiarities – areas abundant in cotton can get the production leftovers from cotton. States wealthy in corn fields are welcome to use the husk for the same purpose.
Natural skepticism to this new eco packaging would bring up research and development cost and ability to sustain production in large quantities. In addition, other factors such as ability to withstand temperatures or simply temperature changes could be relevant – as in, will it crack and expose its content if taken out of a freezer too fast? Or can it handle the rise in pressure due to a delivery truck going over a mountain pass? How about when solvents or oil become in contact with it? One good aspect of it is that natural ingredients such as jute, other crops or plant leftovers should not contribute to any carcinogenic processes and human health implications.
The overall tendency of many businesses and quite prominent beverage shops and store chains towards green packaging and shipping efficiency is commendable. It is almost reasonable to believe that some of these efforts are driven by desire to control expenses and out of honest environmental care as opposed to simply marketing and media hype. More and more similar technology becomes popular such as the silver nano particles covered antibacterial paper. Some of these technologies will survive and are well worth looking into.
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This site has been known to deviate from the mother-lode of paper and large cardboard boxes with plastics, recycling, green packaging and waste management in general being the usual suspects. This time it is rPET or recycled polyethylene terephthalate. This plastic polymer has been around for a while so in itself this is old news. It is often used for plastic bottles and other food containers in addition to polystyrene – both PET and polystyrene are safe to make trays, boxes etc. for food. What makes rPET unique this time is that Pepsi Canada claims to have made a 7Up bottle which is of all recycled polyethylene terephthalate.
Typically a huge number plastic items have some sort of virgin to recycled raw materials ratio. This is rather similar in the paperboard and packaging industry when cardboard boxes are manufactured. Similarly, the greater the amount of recycled plastics in the overall mix, the harder it is to increase quality predictability of the final product. For example, a plastic bottle has to be compliant with product requirements which in turn may be following some legal base abidance. Making a plastic water bottle will have one set of requirements; making a recycled plastic container for carbonated sodas can introduce a number of hardships. Puncture resistance and material stress test levels are to name a few. When these requirements are carried over to a product made from all-recycled content – this becomes rather difficult and bottom line expensive.
The circumstances which make it harder to work with recycled vs. raw materials are often traces of paper, inks, adhesives, dirt and other contaminants which get naturally added to the mix. As a result, it is harder to meet customer requirements and as such markets become at risk. Waste management companies, on the other hand, must also be involved. Importing recycled raw materials from another locality is not impossible, yet it will, to some extent, discredit Pepsi’s efforts into making a green bottle and really reducing carbon footprint. If they have to haul or fly the recyclate from somewhere else, the greenhouse gas emissions will increase accordingly and marketing media hype might not strike the right customer chord when they see the green bottle.
Pepsi have promised to go in production with the new bottle in early August 2011. Since this will only be offered for 7Up, their cost control should check out and hopefully keep the local curbside collection waste management companies busy. All Canadians can make some personal efforts and recycle properly – chances are that the next bottle of the cool clear beverage they pick up would be in a all-recycled green bottle.
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During a recent visit to Germany, I picked up a bottle of soda from an airport stand. It looked a bit unusual. While the normal polyethylene terephthalate logo with the number one in the recycling triangle resin code on the bottom assured me this was indeed a regular plastic bottle, I could not help but feel some subtle difference. Firstly the bottle was of particularly sturdy plastic seemingly designed to handle almost any external turbulence and internal acidity rather natural for carbonated colas and the like. The label was as expected and so was taste, carbonation and the sugar-caffeine rush. What was less evident were the bruises and scars on the bottle bottom and sides. It certainly appeared like someone tried to stock the place and instead of using crates, they went for cardboard boxes which ripped halfway down the road and the bottles were scratched and sustained many transportation damages. That immediately made me feel uncomfortable and I went back to the same fridge I got the bottle from – all its other counterparts had comparable or even more severe damage on their outside.
It turns out that these bottles are really reused and after they are no longer fit for active duty, they are taken to a recycling station to be reborn again with a shiny and glossy appearance. There recently was a study claiming that every beverage can in the US has been re-manufactured at least seven times – as in used, melted and reused. What they do in Europe might be even more interesting. Assuming all safety precautions are met and sanitation level is reached via safe chemicals, reuse of plastic bottles is well justified. It is even more so in offices. All beverages are neatly delivered in crates and then stocked up in fridges or store rooms. Once a bottle is done, it goes right back in its crate only without its liquid content. When the vendors come in to restock, they pick up the empty crates and bottles and restock with full ones.
This system appears to beat any container deposit legislation. It is particularly useful for departmental and institutional plastic bottle use. These can be easily regulated and plastics collected instead of the painful and expensive curbside collection in place by most waste management companies. Container deposit legislation is aimed at reducing highway, city etc. litter by simply refunding the deposit paid on bottles at times of purchase. The German system might arguably be more efficient and the only secret ingredient here is discipline and management buy-in. There might even be tax write off incentives… The only sad fact here is that at this time this recycling pattern is not quite achievable by the paper and packaging industry. Paper and cardboard boxes are too varied in their sizes and shapes – expecting your courier or vendor stocker to pick up your used paper boxes might require even stricter discipline and be unreasonable in cost. Let’s see what the next natural step is in addressing the piles of corrugated fiberboard loaded on to be recycled.
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It is known that plastic shopping bags take a near eternity to decompose if simply buried in a landfill. Certain exceptions might be relevant where biodegradable plastics or some of the decomposable material (typically this is resin code 6 on the bottom of plastic items) is used to manufacture the grocery carriers. Ironically these latter would probably get recycled!
Our care for the environment is naturally calling for a quest of alternative solutions. Back in the old days people used to run their grocery errands with wicker baskets which were almost indestructible and rather heavy duty – well fit for continuous use and eco friendly. Other similar shopping assistants are cloth bags (excellent for tools and sharp objects since they do not rip as easy) or other shipping gear made from reusable and non-disposable material. Such is leather or material which was leftover from industrial manufacturing or sewing factories. A well crafted multi-use bag can be made to take little space and fit naturally in a purse for example. They are handy to have when grabbing groceries on the way back home.
Paper bags are a solution of sorts. While they decompose and can be recycled, it would be a shame to even for a second assume that such styles of bags could be made from virgin paper raw materials – as in, actually chop down trees or harvest crops to make paper bags for shopping. They are sturdier than plastic bags and appear to be much appreciated by retailers who love to post their commercial messaging on the near-cardboard quality paper. European grocery chains like to even charge customers for them. This charge could be seen by some as annoying and driven by greed while others maintain it builds up good habits by making people bring their own bag.
So what happens when we buy a pair of running shoes? They come in a nice small cardboard box which is made of corrugated fiberboard and reasonably strong. The shop attendant would then produce a large polyethylene bag from under the counter and place the box in. If more accessories are purchased, such as extra shoe laces etc, more bags are to follow. This is seen by many as serious over packaging and is a condemned business practice. Some consumers however would be unhappy if the plastic carrier is not offered – the retailer is in a tight spot – to offer or not to offer. The only style of packs which really unites customers so far is clamshell packaging – this really spoils the party when a thermoformed wrapper has to be cracked open in the garage with power tools.
It is sad that all this over packaging is made from either paper pulp (so trees, crops or recycled material) or crude oil. With the price of the latter evidently out of control and the clear lack of self-motivation for people to stop or reduce driving, a reasonable step here might be to limit packaging. It is true that a large number of retailers have these plastic tubs at their entrances designed to recycle plastic bags. Bags are however light and somewhat bulky so quite a few bags have to be collected for a costly trip to a recycling facility to be justified. It is true that if we do not use them as much, then we will not have to worry about recycling them either.
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In a nutshell particleboard is spruce and pine mixture coated in resin to improve strength, durability and resistance to water and time. If you think you have never seen particleboard – look at your bookcase, dresser or a night stand and chances are that they are made of this material. Particleboard is considered composite material – together with the brake pads of your car and a plethora of other items, this generally suggests that particleboard is a mixture of two or more materials which are bound together – at microscopic level they remain the same in their structure. In addition to furniture, at one point human engineering was manufacturing automobiles from particleboard such as the almighty Trabant made in Eastern Germany for example. It was taken out of production in the early nineties. The fenders, hood, doors and trunk lid were all made of particleboard. While not exactly the safest material, it was certainly light and powered by a two-stroke two-cylinder whooping 21-horsepower gasoline engine! Max speed was about 75 mph with a manual choke, brakes and steering, gravity driven fuel-to-carburetor and conveniently located gas tank right in front of the driver! It was perfect to get around town and run errands.
To make particleboard spruce trees are loaded into an industrial wood chipper. Timber becomes chips and pine saw dust is added – it is of finer texture and forms a smooth mix. Next step is to dry the material by extracting moisture and right after that a commercial shaker separates all small and non up to standards flakes in order to maintain high quality of the resulting furniture material. The mixture is bound together by magic glue which is not made of flour and water like in the old days. Instead, urea, ammonia and hard water are mixed to achieve special adhesive fit for purpose. The glue is sprayed in with the particles on their way to heavy rollers which compress the pulp into boards. Following are heavy-duty heaters which take the wood-glue mix to temperatures well above water boiling – this dries up the adhesive and strengthens the mix. A final steel press pushes it all together to create uniform particleboard sheets.
Approaching it completion, particleboard sheets are next taken to an extraterrestrial-looking wheel where they are loaded, dried off and cooled down – this s a commercial implementation of a slowly rotating drier and cooler. Once the furniture sheets are ready, they are typically taken to another facility where they are yet again heated, applied with glue and finally foil wrapped into desired colors. The newly made resin coated sheets are then cut up to specifications and this is how your bookcase is born. All is loaded into a flat pack design cardboard box for customers to take home and start the arts and craft classes after work. Some assembly and tools would be necessary.
The flat pack design process is often as long as the furniture design itself – similar-shape boards have to pack in flat smaller cardboard boxes and be neatly loaded onto trucks from distribution centers to retail stores and eventually to customers’ homes. The flat pack is considered eco-friendly packaging to the extent that it allows for fully stocked trucks to travel and optimize trips saving fuel. It is very much like thermoform packaging – it may be inconvenient for consumers yet it is here to stay.
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