Mushrooms and bamboo? Dell delves into packaging alternatives

Some of the most impactful out-of-the-box sustainability ideas start inside the box.

For evidence, look no further than high-tech giant Dell's recent fiscal 2012 corporate responsibility report.

Over the past four years, Dell has reduced packaging sizes by 12 percent while simultaneously boosting the recyclable or renewable content by 40 percent.

That's good for the environment, of course. It has also helped Dell cut transportation costs, increase its local sourcing and procurement options and get more creative and efficient about delivering multi-product orders for business customers in just one box.

So what is Dell's secret?

Its success stems in part from the company's experiments with alternative materials including compostable bamboo, which it uses with tablet and notebook computers to replace plastic packaging and molded paper pulp; and compostable mushrooms (yes, mushrooms), which replaces the foam Dell uses to ship some server hardware.

"The final product looks and acts like Styrofoam -- only this is organic, biodegradable and can be used as compost or mulch, which makes for easier and more environmental-friendly disposal," Dell's sustainability team wrote in its latest report.

Ready to try some new in-the-box ideas?

Photo of EcoCradle Mushrooms Packaging provided by Ecovative Design.

Next page: Three companies developing plant-based packaging