Saturday, 04 February 2023

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Benefits of Rice Hulls in Papermaking

The use of waste materials in the papermaking process is at the forefront of the packaging world. It is no secret that traditional packaging harms the environment and damages sustainability. Deforestation and the subsequent loss of habitat are both severe factors that plague traditional cardboard packaging. In hopes that we can minimize these issues, we should explore the possibility of implementing organic waste materials into our packaging to increase sustainability./p>

Introduction

In 1978, the UN defined sustainability as, “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” If we want to ensure the future of our planet, the importance of sustainability cannot be overstated. /p>

The demand for paper-based materials contributes significantly to deforestation, a phenomenon that has drastic effects on sustainability. “About 3.5 billion cubic meters of wood is harvested worldwide each year (Food and Agriculture Organization, 1995), of which 500 million cubic meters (or 14 percent) is used for pulp and paper.” Deforestation leads to significant environmental problems such as climate change, the loss of habitats, and a subsequent decrease in biodiversity in affected regions. /p>

The utilization of organic waste materials instead of wood can lessen the severity of deforestation and increase sustainability. Rice hulls are one such organic waste material, and its exploration can allow for the possible benefits explored above and minimize the risk of climate change./p>

Benefits of Rice Hulls

Rice hulls can bring many potential benefits due to the certain qualities that they hold. The implementation of rice hulls in the papermaking process can dramatically increase sustainability due to their abundance, protective qualities, and their general efficiency./p>

Most rice husks find themselves in landfills. Nearly twenty percent of a rice harvest is composed of hulls by mass, and roughly 7 million hectares of forest are lost annually according to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). Utilizing even a fraction of these materials in papermaking could drastically reduce wood consumption, and thus lessen the impact of deforestation. 

This abundance of rice hulls can already be utilized in the papermaking process. Even if five percent of cardboard has rice hulls implemented into the material, we could see a significant reduction in deforestation. 

Despite their weight, rice hulls are a strong and durable material. The husks are water-resistant and are known to be good insulators. Having a package that resists such environmental conditions would be economical and preferable for consumers, especially when combined with the rice hulls' green nature./p>

Perhaps the greatest benefit brought by the implementation of rice hulls is the general efficiency they bring. Their lightweight nature eases shipping as weight is often a limiting factor when it comes to mass-cargo shipping and managing large supply chains. Their nature as a byproduct of rice is also helpful, as food for the general populace along with a possible packaging material is being produced in one.

Building upon the weight reduction, packages with rice hulls would be able to reduce costs and be transported with greater fuel efficiency. In an article by Kristy Flowers, she argues the following, “The benefits of reduced packaging help reduce production costs and the cost savings are passed onto the consumer.” Not only is their implementation environmentally friendly and logistical, but it’s also economical because of the cheapness of rice husks. She goes on to argue, “Reduced packaging… more packages… can be transported at the same time and reduce the number of trips required. Less fossil fuel is needed and so less pollution is generated with the use of PBHs.” The use of rice hulls can therefore reduce the number of trips trucks, ships, and planes take to transport packages over time. 

The benefits of implementing rice husks are numerous. However, some drawbacks also exist. The effects of lignin on paper strength and the increased biodegradability time for rice hulls should both be addressed and explored so that, if we implement rice hulls into papermaking, we do so in a responsible and proper manner.

Possible Drawbacks

While rice hulls have massive potential benefits, their implementation in papermaking suffers due to lessening paper quality. Rice hulls contain a yellowish fiber called lignin, which tends to weaken the paper’s strength. This decreases its ability to be recycled. Each time a piece of paper is recycled, the cellulose fibers, which comprise it, grow shorter and weaker. Composing a paper with a majority of rice hulls in its composition can thus shorten its lifespan.

Biodegradability is a primary concern when it comes to packaging. Over time, the environment naturally decomposes waste materials. Using the table below, we can see that paper products such as cardboard generally degrade in a few months. Rice hulls, however, tend to take upwards of a year. Thus, despite being a biological product, they take longer to decompose naturally, a possible hindrance to sustainability.

Yet, the rate of degradation is nothing compared to other products. Glass and plastic bags, two mainstream packaging products, are far less efficient in terms of degradability. Just because rice hulls degrade slower compared to paper products does not mean that they are inherently less sustainable due to how both products are produced.

Separating the production and degradation processes creates a clearer picture. To produce cardboard, deforestation and loss of habitat occur. Producing rice hulls, on the other hand, is a byproduct of producing food. Therefore, it is arguable that despite the fast rate of degradation undergone by cardboard, rice hulls are still more environmentally friendly. 

While these drawbacks are something to be considered, they are not complete hindrances to implementing rice hulls in papermaking. To counteract the effect of lignin, a smaller percentage of rice husks can be implemented into the paper mixture. This way the paper will retain some of its strength while decreasing wood consumption and thus, deforestation.

To conclude, rice hulls are a good example of an organic waste material that has the potential to revolutionize the packaging industry. Exploring involving the implementation of organic waste materials into daily objects such as cardboard can drastically reduce climate change and have a positive impact on the environment. 

References:

https://www.un.org/en/academic-impact/sustainability

https://www.ran.org/the-understory/how_many_trees_are_cut_down_every_year/

http://sustainability.asn.au/blog/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/chart-01.png

https://www.norwexmovement.com/rice-husks/

https://www.kristykorganics.com/post/benefits-of-using-rice-hulls-pbh

https://www.riceland.com/rice-hull-product

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283082426_Rice_Hulls_as_a_Cushioning_Material

https://www.wcibags.com/2017/01/24/biodegradable-bags-compostable-bags-and-recyclable-bags-what-does-it-all-mean/

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