Michigan-based RNS Packaging to introduce FunPak, a biodegradable corn-based alternative to PS packing peanuts, to consumer retailers at upcoming trade shows; the dog-shaped peanuts disintegrate in about a day after being exposed to water

Mathew Kearney

Mathew Kearney

Jun 19, 2014 – Dowagiac Daily News

DOWAGIAC, Michigan , June 19, 2014 (press release) – Over many years, and many boxes, Rich Daniels discovered he had something in common with thousands of Americans -- he didn't like Styrofoam packing peanuts.

"There's a visceral reaction people have to packing peanuts," Daniels said. "I don't know anybody who likes them."

The fact that his dog required surgery to remove an errant piece it swallowed didn't help abate his distaste for the product. Neither did the fact that Styrofoam takes hundreds years to fully degrade, meaning that the discarded product will be sitting in landfills for years to come.

"I thought there had to be a better way," Daniels said.

In 2012, the resident of Sister Lakes decided to find out what that better way was, looking to make an environmentally friendly product that would enhance, not detract, from the unpacking experience.

Two years, five awards, and 100,000 packages later, it's safe to say that Daniel's company, RNS Packaging, is on the right track towards finding it.

In a few weeks' time, Daniels' plans on unveiling his flagship product, FunPak, to consumer retailers at an upcoming trade show. Made from a biodegradable starch-based material, the packing peanuts are shaped like miniature dog bones, giving them a unique look compared to traditional packing material.

"They provide an unboxing experience that separates us from everyone else," Daniels said.

The entrepreneur first put the peanuts into production last year in June, after working for several months with the Michigan State University Extension Office in Cassopolis to develop the product. He introduced the bone-shaped peanuts during last year's Global Pet Expo, held in Orlando, where several companies agreed to start using it for their shipments, Daniels said.

A native of the Chicago region, Daniels' past helped prepare him for the long hours and hard work necessary to make his new company succeed. He served in the U.S. Army from 1986 to 1991, and was deployed in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. Following his discharge from service, he enrolled at Northern Illinois University, receiving his degree in business communication in 1994.

After years of working in sales and marketing, he decided to move away from the city of Chicago, with his wife Stephanie and children Camp and Katherine.

While the idea of biodegradable packing material isn't new, Daniels said that his corn-based product is more stable than competing brands on the market. Once exposed to water, though, the peanuts will begin to break down, usually taking around a day to fully disintegrate.

"It's not food grade, but if your small child eats one of them, they're not going to get sick," he said. "If your pet eats it, it will be dissolved before it even hits their stomach."

The sustainability of his product hasn't escaped the eyes of state business associations, especially during a time when companies are more concerned than ever with their environmental impact.

Last fall, the Michigan Business & Professional Association named RNS Packaging in their list of the 101 Best and Brightest Sustainable Companies in Michigan, awarding them the elite designation in the small business category. It was one of several distinctions the company and Daniels have received over the past year.

"Getting awards like this reinforces that I'm doing something right, that I'm working on a good concept for many reasons," he said.

Besides expanding FunPak to larger base of customers, Daniels said he is currently working with several other companies to develop sustainable packaging solutions for their products. He also hopes to one day open a distribution center for his products here in Southwest Michigan.

"One of the greatest things about this area is that people here care," Daniels said. "They really want you to succeed."

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