Practically everyone who’s ever smoked a cigar is familiar with the cellophane that comes wrapped most newly purchased cigars. But not everyone is familiar with the origins of cellophane or its manufacturing process. We’ve talked about the reasons why cellophane is or isn’t used in the past here, but today we’re taking a deeper dive into what cellophane actually is, how it’s manufactured, and the positive global impacts cellophane use has on both the environment and international economies.
Where does cellophane come from?
One thing most people don’t know is that cellophane is a natural product that burns like paper. The building block that makes up cellophane is the glucose molecule. Wood and other plant materials combine glucose in their cells to form cellulose. This cellulose is processed to form the film we know as cellophane. This is vastly different from plastic, which is typically made from petroleum waste products and uses hydrocarbons to form its structure. In contrast, cellophane’s cellulose composition makes it much more environmentally friendly in how it’s manufactured—and because it breaks down easier over a vastly shorter period of time, it’s also highly biodegradable.
How is cellophane manufactured?
In order to make cellophane, natural plant products like cotton, wood, and hemp are dissolved to create a pulp and then aged in a process called mercerization. Carbon disulfide is then added to create a product called viscose. This process reorganizes the molecular structure of the glucose molecules. The viscose is then processed with sodium sulfate and dilute sulfuric acid and formed into a cellulose film. This film is then rinsed to bleach, after which glycerin is added to give it strength.
Cellophane vs. plastic
The end result of the process is the familiar product we all know as cellophane. While cellophane has been around since 1912, cheap plastic alternatives eventually became a more popular packaging material for various industries as oil companies sought to monetize their waste products. This made cellophane more expensive. But in recent years, cellophane has exploded in popularity because of environmentally conscious consumers. Cellophane breaks down in as little as ten days in a freshwater environment. In comparison, plastic takes several hundred years to break down.
Where is cellophane manufactured?
With the cigar boom in the mid-90s, cellophane manufacturers moved plants to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. This gave them easy access to the cigar manufacturers and cut down on shipping costs. In addition, cellophane manufacturers in both countries took advantage of negotiated trade-free zones so they could distribute their product all over the world without having to pay local taxes. This helped drive down the cost of cellophane because of scale.
How cellophane use impacts the industry and creates jobs
While we might take for granted the simple packaging our cigars come in, it’s mind-blowing to contemplate the fact that entire businesses have been built around the product, providing thousands of jobs in the process. It’s great to know that the natural, handmade products we enjoy—cigars—are protected by a product that’s both environmentally friendly and functional.