The environmental impact of polyurethane foam, plastic products and the rising pollution levels across the globe are the main reasons why moulded fibre products have gained rapid commercial importance in the recent years. According to Goldstein Research, the global green packaging market valued USD at 139.09 billion in 2016. It is expected to reach USD 230.19 billion in 2024, growing at a CAGR of 6.50% over the forecast period.
Molded fiber, also known as molded pulp, is usually composed of biodegradable raw material such as recycled paper, newsprint, cardboard and other natural fibers like sugarcane, bamboo, and wheat straw. Molded pulp products can later be recycled as well. Thus, molded fiber can reduce environmental waste and save trees.
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Though molded fiber is often associated with egg trays, it has become a sustainable resource for various primary and secondary applications across industries. The applications are getting increasingly sophisticated as the molding technology continues to evolve.
Before looking into the various applications, however, let’s learn about the various types of molded pulp first.
Types of Molded Pulp
Based on the manufacturing process, the types of raw materials used, and the application, molded pulp is classified into the following four types.
- Thick-Walled Pulp
Thick-walled pulp is the thickest molded pulp used for manufacturing packaging products for shipping and transportation. It is primarily composed of scrap and kraft paper and cardboard. The products usually have an unfinished surface on one side, with a moderately finished one on the other. The thick and rustic profile makes it the ideal application for making edge protectors for heavy equipment.
- Transfer Molded Pulp
Transfer molded pulp is slightly thinner compared to the thick-walled variety. As the pulp is transferred from one mold to another during the manufacturing process, it is called transfer molded pulp. As a result, both sides are finished properly, which renders them a polished look and texture. It is perhaps the most popular type of molded pulp out there. The most common applications include egg trays, fruit and vegetable trays, slipper pans, wine shippers, and end caps.
- Thermoformed Fiber Pulp
The manufacturing process for thermoformed fiber involves the use of heated molds. They are used to make the material denser and create precisely shaped products. Due to their super finished look, they are often used for refined molded tableware such as dinner trays, plates, cups, and soup bowls.
- Processed Pulp
As the name suggests, processed pulp undergoes secondary processing such as coating, printing, hot pressing, trimming, and an addition of special slurry additives. As the finished products possess similar properties to expanded polystyrene, processed pulp makes an excellent cushioning material.
Now that you have a fair idea of the different types of molded fibers and their features, let’s review their various applications.
- Egg Trays
The invention of molded fiber egg trays has been no less than a miracle for the poultry industry. As, Plastic, polystyrene, and folded papers have been used for packaging, but without much success. Throughout history, the industry had struggled to find an affordable, reliable, and eco-friendly way to transport eggs until the invention of the molded paper pulp tray.
However, the predecessor to modern egg trays has been around for more than a century, the first ever egg carton design was patented in 1969 by United Industrial Syndicate in Maine. Earlier, people used metal boxes with cardboard inserts to transport eggs by rail and road. However, the arduous manufacturing process and the limited cushioning ability were the discouraging factors.
Nevertheless, things changed for good with the introduction of molded egg trays. The porous fiber material of molded fiber provides better ventilation. The shock absorption properties can protect eggs from breaking during rough handling. They also help keep the eggs free from infections. As a result, the count of broken eggs has reduced significantly over time. The smallest egg cartons can hold six to twelve eggs, making it easier for end buyers to carry them home safely.
- Fruit and Vegetable Trays
When the molded pulp egg trays became popular, the agriculture industry started experimenting with molded pulp trays to transport fruits and vegetables around the same time. Just like egg cartons, fruit and vegetable trays also became popular over the years. Apart from providing continuous ventilation through the micro pores, the porous nature of the molded fiber absorbs moisture from fruits and vegetables. Thus, molded pulp trays can keep their freshness intact for longer.
As no other packaging material can meet these hallmarks, molded fiber trays are usually used to transport several types of fruits including apple, peach, orange, and mangoes. In the era of supermarkets, attractive packaging is necessary even for fruits and vegetables. Colored and printed molded pulp trays have been found advantageous to package the goods in the most presentable manner possible.
- Compostable Plant Holders
Any gardener worth his salt knows that growing seedlings in plant holders is the best way to grow plants. However, transferring delicate plantlets from plastic or polyethylene containers into the soil is a daunting process. Even the slightest mistake can cause the transferred seedlings to weather eventually. That’s why most people use biodegradable seed starting pots to start their gardens.
Though eco-friendly greenhouse and nursery containers made from peat and coconut coir have been around for years, the popularity of compostable molded fiber pots has risen recently. Watering them initially can be a bit harder, but they can hold more water compared to peat and coconut coir pots, making them a better option for seed starting. In addition, they are durable and inexpensive.
- Wine Shipper
There is no better packaging material than, molded fiber bottle holders, whether storing wine in a warehouse or shipping it across the country. These holders can readily absorb the shock during transportation, preventing any damage to the delicate glass bottles. The nesting design also helps save space, reducing shipping costs significantly.
- Edge Cone or Corner Cap
Molded pulp edge cones and corner caps can serve as ideal packaging solutions for consumer electronics, ceramics, and furniture. Unlike wine bottles and eggs, these products are comparatively sturdy. However, their edges and surfaces are prone to damage. Molded fiber corner caps can readily absorb shocks during transit, protecting these appliances and goods from damage. The caps are almost as sturdy as foam and plastic packaging materials, but relatively cheaper and recyclable. Packaging materials are also available as trays, clamshells, and cushions.
- Disposable Urinal
The medical industry has benefited tremendously from various molded pulp products including disposable urinals, disposable bedpan liners, commode pans, and packaging material for medicines and medical equipment. The trend is rapidly shifting towards disposable as they can significantly lower the risk of cross infection. Besides, they are easy to use, affordable, and eco-friendly.
7. Customized Applications
Apart from the various applications mentioned above, most molded fiber product manufacturers also provide customized products tailored to meet their client’s requirements. You can get customized packaging products for both, heavy and delicate items at relatively affordable rates.
The demand for green packaging is going up as people are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the products they purchase. Molded fiber products are not only eco-friendly, but also an affordable alternative to foam and plastic products. This post explains in detail the various types and applications of moulded fibre products, from egg cartons to customized packaging for other products. Tell us about the products you are using to engage in sustainable practices while answering directly to consumer needs in the comments section below.