It’s the middle of the holiday season here in the United States, that magical time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when the stores are filled with bodies and the porches are filled with packages.
All of this packaging produces a lot of waste – between 33 million tonnes and 51 million tonnes a year, depending on the estimate. A majority is recycled, but there is still a significant fraction that ends up in landfills.
A startup has a plan to reduce this fraction while reducing the carbon footprint of people’s homes. Buffalo-based CleanFiber takes used cardboard boxes and turns them into cellulose insulation that can be blown into the walls and attics of new and existing homes.
As building products, cellulosic insulation is quite special. Because it is insulation, it reduces energy consumption. It is relatively efficient and inexpensive. And it’s made almost entirely from recycled materials, which means it reduces a building’s embodied carbon, or the amount of pollution contained in its materials.
Typically, cellulosic insulation is made by shredding old newspapers, but as the newspaper industry has declined over the past 20 years, the supply of newsprint has also dwindled.
“At one point, approximately 13 million tons of newsprint were produced annually in North America,” CleanFiber CEO Jonathan Strimling told TechCrunch. Today, “it is around 1 million tonnes and continues to decline”.
This drop prompted industry insiders to use corrugated boxes instead of newsprint. But they knew they couldn’t reuse the same processes. Bales of newspaper are fairly consistent, while bales of old corrugated containers are covered with shipping labels, plastic sleeves and various types of tape. Simply shredding it and sending it through a cellulose blower would gum up the jobs and make some installers very unhappy.