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The Life Cycle of Pulp Packaging 

By Graham Lee, Switch Packaging Technical Manager

Many of you may have seen pulp in the form of drink trays as we order our favourite fast food. However, the possibilities of pulp are virtually endless and can serve a far greater purpose than replacing trays and holders. In this blog, Graham will take you on a journey of how pulp is made and demonstrate how its capabilities are changing the world of packaging.



The design of pulp


So first off, before we get into the nitty-gritty of how the pulp products are made, it is important to briefly review the design process.


At Switch, the process of designing pulp packaging starts with a design consultation. This involves understanding what the client wants, what would best suit their products and how to align to their overall business objectives. Pulp is ideal for an extensive range of products, from inserts to protect fragile and intricate objects, through to external packaging for large and heavy objects such as doors and kitchen units.


It is important to create designs that overcome any previous breakage issues, and which also make a great first impression and user-experience. To create a pulp design that is fit for purpose, we then look at the weight, breakability and dimensions of the products. This enables us to look at the science behind the packaging so we can create a design with the correct material weight/grade. At this stage, we can also determine whether we need to incorporate additional components such as integrated fittings to securely hold the products in place.


We like to create designs using our in-house 3D CAD software so clients can easily visualise their designs, and we can even create mock-ups using our 3-D printing machine which is actually the first in the industry.


What pulp is made from


It’s pretty simple really, pulp is made from recycled waste-based paper or cardboard. This means that pulp is a completely renewable and biodegradable raw material that gives a new lease of life to surplus materials.


Alternatively, for the medical, cosmetic and food industries which can’t take the risk of contamination, virgin material from sustainable sources can also be used to form pulp.






Moulded pulp



The moulding process


The way in which pulp can be moulded is the exciting part. The moulding process unlocks its potential to be used for intricate, durable and completely bespoke designs. This means that pulp can serve a much bigger purpose than how we recognise it today.


When thinking of the moulding process with pulp, think back to those days back in school when you would papier-mache around different products. Well, the process of making pulp is very similar, but of course a little more sophisticated!


To start off, a mould is made to fit around your product. This mould lasts a lifetime and allows pulp to be very versatile. However, if you are after a more standard packaging design at this stage, there are shortcuts that can be taken to reduce costs.


Using the pre-made mould, the pulp material is then heated, pressed and then shaped. The moulded pulp is then dried to ensure all the excess moisture has evaporated. These simple processes of heating and drying make pulp so durable and tough that it can be used to protect even the most fragile objects and can outperform expensive plastics and foams.


And voila! Once the pulp has dried, it is then ready to be used to package your products.  



The circle of pulp


But what happens when the pulp has served its purpose as packaging? The wonderful thing about pulp is that is it biodegradable and compostable. It is made from recycled paper and is therefore completely recyclable. The entirety of the packaging can be disposed of in any household or public recycling centre.


The best thing? If pulp does find itself disposed of in a natural environment, not to worry, it will completely decompose within 4-6 weeks. When we compare this to plastics and polystyrene which can take up to 500 years to decompose, we really need to question why these materials are still being used!


The same pulp material can be recycled and used for the same or different purpose for between 5-7 cycles. It is very likely that when you come across pulp packaging it has an extensive life story to share. So, next time you recycle your pulp packaging, wish it well for the new and exciting journey it is embarking on!



We hope that this has given you a better understanding of the process of designing and making pulp packaging and its sustainable nature. You can read more about pulp here, alternatively, continue this conversation with Graham who will happy to talk through any ideas with you and offer this expert advice.



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