Is brown paper biodegradable? (7 properties of brown paper) 

In this article, the biodegradability of brown paper will be targeted. Other covered aspects will be:

  • What is brown paper?
  • What are the applications of brown paper?
  • How is brown paper made?
  • What is biodegradability?
  • What is the impact of brown paper on the environment?
  • Is brown paper biodegradable?
  • FAQs

Is brown paper biodegradable?

Brown paper is biodegradable because it is made from natural materials (trees). The microbes can easily degrade brown paper. 

Brown paper is also known as kraft paper and is regarded as strong with high tensile strength. This is because of higher lignin contents and the absence of bleaching agents which may reduce the strength of paper. 

Brown paper is used for a variety of applications including industrial packaging, wrapping, arts, crafts, and protective shipping. 

Other than biodegradable, it is also possible to compost brown paper. Compost is dead organic matter which may be used as a natural fertiliser to improve the soil quality. 

As brown paper does not contain any harmful elements and is rich in organic content, it is very possible to compost brown paper. 

Paper may also be recycled to make new paper, thus leading to better energy and waste management proclivities. 

What is brown paper? (7 properties of brown paper) 

Brown paper is also regarded as kraft paper. It is an unbleached paper which is mostly made from plant sources. The common sources of the brown paper include wood pulp and trees. 

The common uses of brown paper include:

  • Wrapping purposes 
  • Protection
  • Economic void fill
  • Palette lining
  • Packaging of products 
  • Invitation cards & flyers 

Usually when a paper is produced, it goes through a bleaching process and because of that the whiteness of paper is achieved. When brown paper is made, the bleaching part is simply not done. 

Common bleaching agents used for the bleaching process include hydrogen peroxide. When brown paper is made, the use of these bleaching agents is thus avoided. 

The use of bleaching is linked to decreased strength of paper and that is why brown paper is much stronger and more sturdy than the common white paper. 

Since brown paper is made from plant-based sources, there are minimal impacts brown paper on the environment. 

Usually, there are environmental impacts of consumer products because those are made from products derived from fossil fuels. That is why there are issues associated with those products including the emission of greenhouse gases and global warming. 

Kraft paper may have the following properties: 

  • Physical strength
  • Coarse
  • High tensile strength
  • Porous
  • High elasticity
  • High tear resistance 
  • Durable 

Most of these properties give a strong profile to brown paper and that is why it is often used as a strong packaging agent. It may be used for protection and wrapping purposes as well.

Brown paper has high lignin content which is responsible for giving high strength and great tensile profiles to brown paper. 

What are the applications of brown paper?

Brown paper, otherwise known as kraft paper, comes along with a number of applications and uses. 

The primary reason behind the applicability of brown paper is that that bleach is not used in making brown paper. 

Bleaching agents such as hydrogen peroxide are responsible for the whitening of normal white paper. However, bleaching agents also reduce the strength and durability of paper. 

Since brown paper does not make use of bleaching agents, they are comparatively stronger and more durable. The common applications for which brown paper may be used include: 

  • Packaging of Industrial products
  • Protective shipping 
  • Arts and crafts 
  • Tray lining
  • Void filling 
  • Gift wrapping 

It is studied that there may be several types of brown paper. Each type is linked with a different set of uses and applications. 

For example, kraft paper may be simple, black, coloured, recycled, or even white coloured. These types are employed for their specific applications and usabilities. 

How is brown paper made?

Brown paper is made from paper pulp. Plant-based materials are involved in the making of brown paper. Therefore, brown paper is regarded to have minimal impact on the environment and life, in general. 

The sources from where raw materials to make brown paper may be taken include birch, eucalyptus, aspen, pine, or larch. 

The making of brown paper is made in consideration of various considerations. For example, wood pulp may contain bark and lignin. 

The making of brown paper is done by the successful removal of bark and lignin, because otherwise the functional uses of brown paper may not be achieved. 

This is done at the expense of various chemicals like sodium sulphide and sodium hydroxide. These chemicals separate wood pulp from unwanted materials involving bark and lignin. However, it may be stated that brown paper has higher amounts of lignin as compared to normal white paper because it is stronger and more durable.

The bark removal may also be done at the expense of mechanical force by machinery. However, this will be done at the expense of the emission of GHGs.

The paper produced after the mechanical removal of bark is termed groundwood paper while the product achieved after the chemical removal is called black liquor. While the former depends on force, the latter depends on temperature and chemicals. 

There are usually 3-4 steps that are adopted mechanically for the paper-making process. These processes may be: 

  • Wet end
  • Wet press section 
  • Dryer section 
  • Calender section 

The first process involves the mixing of paper with water and other fillers, as the name of the process also suggests. This is then followed by the wet press section where the pulp moves on a felt belt. 

The next step is the dryer section which dries the mixture from the pulp. At this stage, the pulp is very much in paper form. Lastly, we have a calendar section that is responsible for giving a smooth finish to the paper using pressure. 

You must be wondering where the protective layer is added in this whole process. As per the deliberations, the synthetic materials, coating and layers are added between the wet and dry processes of the paper-making process. 

As it can be seen, the paper-making process is energy-consumptive and there is high use of chemicals (to separate lignin and bark). Therefore, it is important that sustainability must be run through these processes otherwise, paper production will do more harm than good. 

What is biodegradability?

Biodegradability is the breakdown of waste by the action of microbes. These microbes can be bacteria, fungi, decomposers, algae, and even protozoa. These microbes ensure that the waste generated does not accumulate and gets back to the system of life. 

If there is waste accumulation, there will be negative effects that waste accumulation which will impact all areas of our life. 

Therefore, biodegradability can also be regarded as nature’s dustbin. What is the role of a dustbin? To keep the waste segregated from the environment and make sure it does not pollute the environment. 

The role of biodegradability is very similar. Other than microbes, there are also external factors which play an important role in the biodegradation process. These may include aeration, sunlight, temperature and pressure. 

The time taken for a product or substance to biodegrade depends on the type of material and the external conditions. 

Based on biodegradability, there is a classification of waste. Waste may either be biodegradable or non-biodegradable. 

Not all waste can be degraded by the action of microbes. Most of the waste that is from synthetic materials produced at the expense of chemicals and human innovation is not biodegradable. 

It may take hundreds of years for such waste to degrade and therefore, it is termed non-biodegradable waste. Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include:

  • Resins 
  • HDPE
  • Nylon
  • Acrylonitrile 
  • Epoxies

These materials may take from a few hundred years to a thousand years to degrade. While they persist, they cause a plethora of problems to the environment and life. Examples of biodegradable waste may include plant waste, animal waste, manure et cetera. 

The impact of biodegradable waste on the environment is very less compared to non-biodegradable waste.

What is the impact of brown paper?

It is usually perceived that products and materials made from natural sources will have no impact on the environment. However, this statement is quite distant from the actual reality. 

The primary reason is that every consumer product will have some impact on the environment. Consumer products are made from raw materials at the expense of energy and leaving behind waste. All these factors impact our environment. 

Brown paper is made from trees and this means that there will be cutting of trees. It is already suggested that human activities have resulted in a 50% decreased tree count. 

Trees are essential entities that save us from environmental anomalies and play their part in the sustainability and maintaining the greenness of the environment.

If there will be excessive tree cutting, there will be negative impacts on the environment including soil erosion, destruction of habitats, and disruption of ecosystems. Trees are the primary producers. They are the starting points of food webs and food chains. 

If trees are cut in grave amounts, there will be effects reciprocated at various levels of food chains. 

The production of brown paper also is energy and water consumptive. This leads to the emissions of GHGs which may cause global warming and other environment-related anomalies. 

Therefore, it is incumbent that brown paper manufacture is made in line with concepts of sustainability by cutting trees from controlled environments and making use of renewable resources rather than non-renewable resources. 

Is brown paper biodegradable?

Yes, brown paper is biodegradable because it is made from natural materials (trees). The microbes can easily degrade brown paper. 

Other than biodegradable, it is also possible to compost brown paper. Compost is dead organic matter which may be used as a natural fertiliser to improve the soil quality. 

As brown paper does not contain any harmful elements and is rich in organic content, it is very possible to compost brown paper. 

Paper may also be recycled to make new paper, thus leading to better energy and waste management proclivities. 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that brown paper is biodegradable because it is made from wood pulp. The microbes such as bacteria or decomposers can degrade brown paper readily. 

Brown paper is known as kraft paper and is regarded as strong with high tensile strength. This is because of higher lignin contents and the absence of bleaching agents which may reduce the strength of paper. 

Brown paper is used for a variety of applications including industrial packaging, wrapping, arts, crafts, and protective shipping. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Is brown paper biodegradable?

Why is brown paper brown in colour?

This is because there is no bleach used in the production of brown paper which is known to cause whiteness in the ordinary paper. 

What are other names for brown paper?

Brown paper is also termed kraft paper because kraft comes from the german word ‘strong’. The reason is that brown paper is very strong and durable. 

References

  • Alava, M., & Niskanen, K. (2006). The physics of paper. Reports on progress in physics, 69(3), 669.
  • Hunter, D. (1978). Papermaking: the history and technique of an ancient craft. Courier Corporation.
  • Hubbe, M. A., Venditti, R. A., & Rojas, O. J. (2007). What happens to cellulosic fibers during papermaking and recycling? A review. BioResources, 2(4), 739-788.
  • Hamel, Gregory. (July 21, 2017). The Effects of Cutting Down Trees on the Ecosystem. Retrieved from: https://sciencing.com/the-effects-of-cutting-down-trees-on-the-ecosystem-12000334.html

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