The pulp and paper industries are global commerce giants. These products in countless varieties are used each day by billions of people the world over. While there is a prevailing attitude that paper is a dying industry, it is in fact rapidly growing. In 2010, global paper consumption was estimated at approximately 400 million tons, and this figure is expected to increase by up to 25% by 2020 (van Hoeven, 2012). Additionally, the demand for packaging continues to soar due to our modern shift towards an ecommerce business model. Despite the fact that the pulp and paper industry has rebuilt their production process to include comprehensive sustainability and recycling methods, the public perceptions of systematic deforestation prevail. With the increased purchasing power of eco-friendly millennials, the interest in alternative-fiber has gained momentum. According to California Green Solutions (Smith, 2010), Millennials care about the environment; and as a result, most Millennials possess positive attitudes toward green products and are willing to pay more for green services, products, or brands. This market trend has pushed greater research into paper and packaging products utilizing alternative (also called tree-free) fibers, like hemp, kenaf, bamboo, and jute. A quick Internet search yields a number of small start-up specialty paper product companies who are looking to appeal to this niche market and follow its growth.
A fiber with similar properties as the tree-free fibers listed above but with an additional eco-friendly element that moves past the goal of sustainability is Milkweed. Extremely prolific, milkweed grows in varied climates from far south to the northern plains, flourishing in both wet and dry climates (Taylor, 2018). Currently the plant is considered a noxious weed, and farmers work to eliminate it from their fields as it competes with plants grown for commercial value. However, there is interest to the use of the common milkweed because of the concern for the dwindling population of Monarch butterflies. The Monarch larva use only milkweed as their source of sustenance (Deucy, 2018). While this study does not deal directly with the declining Monarch populations, interest in planting milkweed would increase the viability of using this plant for making paper. Research has shown that milkweed is easily cultivated and can be commercially grown with the intent to maximize the output of cellulose (Reddy and Yang, 2009).
The objective of this work is to discover if Milkweed might be a high quality alternative fiber for papermaking and utilize specific properties making its use attractive to both industry and consumers.