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Cardboard Packaging – is it good for the environment?

In a world that sometimes appears to be drowning in man-made waste, it might seem like we are fighting a losing battle against ever-growing piles of rubbish. For consumers, it can be confusing:  should we or shouldn’t we recycle? Does it really use MORE resources to recover and recycle? Trees are a renewable resource, right?

Let’s have a look at the facts regarding the use of cardboard in packaging but first, a few points about trees…

The trees. It’s always about the trees!

No one could argue that trees aren’t one of our most important resources. Conservatively, it’s estimated that a 14-year-old plantation removes 20 to 25 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year. The question is this: is your package more important than saving a poison dart frog in a distant rainforest?

Are the frogs important?

That depends on your point of view (from the frogs, it’s very important 😊)! How you answer this is completely individual. If we are talking about basics like food or essentials such as medical supplies, then obviously your package takes precedence over the poison dart frog whose tree just got bulldozed! If you’re a supervisor, answering to company directors concerned only about the bottom line, then the package is the most important thing. And if you are a subsistence-level worker whose family would die from hunger if you don’t cut down that frog’s home, then of course your package is effectively more important than the frog!

Is cardboard packaging doing any real harm?

Some environmentalists believe that protecting the earth’s forests – AT ANY COST – is the only thing that matters. Earth’s long-term survival depends on forests, and ecologically, we are already at a dangerously fragile “tipping point”. Unfortunately, that point of view ignores all the other factors that are part of the equation (like the people who depend on tree harvesting for a living).

At this point, judicious management of the earth’s forests and sensible recycling remain the best way to keep parcel-hungry customers happy without placing added pressure on the environment. And… it’s a simple fact that old-growth forests are NOT being cut down indiscriminately for paper and cardboard!

So – if not rainforests – then what?

Most packaging boxes are made from corrugated cardboard which is made from recycled paper products. Kraft paper – the brown stuff used for packaging – is made from spruce, fir, pine, and silver birch – chosen for their long, strong fibres. Trees like these are an important, completely renewable resource and are mostly grown in properly managed plantations that save millions of hectares of old-growth timber from being harvested. Yes, it is true that plantations are not the ecologically diverse equivalent of virgin forests. More care needs to be taken and old-growth forests, need protection from logging. But at Altrades, we take pride in the fact that we help our customers choose packaging that we source from the most environmentally conscious sources available.

In fact, we have recently launched our Earth Experience program. Which is designed to help you find better packaging alternatives without compromising on the quality or the ultimate protection of your products. Interested in finding out how we can help you? Then visit our website for more information or to book your consultation.

We all know packaging isn’t going anywhere!

The demographic with disposable incomes is growing exponentially. And COVID has had the effect of increasing online purchasing by approximately 40% over the last few years with the trend continuing upwards. Cardboard is an ideal packaging medium for many reasons, not the least of which is its excellent properties for recycling.

There are many factors that make cardboard ideal for packaging:

  • Cardboard is 100% recyclable
  • Cardboard is 100% biodegradable – it degrades completely in a year
  • Cardboard waste is easy to store, bale and transport
  • Cardboard is strong, light, and durable
  • Cardboard has a very low environmental impact

Why using a cardboard box is good for the environment?

The ease with which cardboard can be recycled is one of its main advantages. Its manufacture means carbon dioxide and oil emissions can be reduced by up to 60 percent compared with other materials. 1 tonne of recycled cardboard can save:

  • 17 trees
  • 1520 litres of oil
  • 28,000 litres of water
  • 4000 kilowatts of energy
  • 3 cubic metres of landfill
  • 680 kilograms of carbon dioxide being released
  • 50-80% on the cost of building a factory to produce virgin cardboard
  • Creates jobs

So yes, we’d say that cardboard boxes are pretty good for the environment!

Are recycled cardboard boxes good enough for your packaging?

You bet! It’s one of the best things about recycling cardboard. Due to the durable nature of the fibres used to make kraft paper, recycled board can be reused many times with no loss of integrity.  In fact, a recent study conducted by the Graz University of Technology in Austria found that cardboard can be recycled as many as 25 times, probably more, without affecting its strength.  That’s good news for your products and even better news for the trees! Multiply the stats above by 25 and you get some pretty good figures. Multiply that by the amount of packaging that is currently being used to send widgets and gadgets (and life-saving medicines) to almost every home on the planet, and it’s even more impressive!

So, is it a good idea to tell your customers to recycle all their cardboard?

After all, if the recycling figures are good, we want to make them even better and save even more poison dart frogs from the bulldozer, right? Well, no… and yes. Even though recycling rates for cardboard are the highest of all the reclaimable resources, averaging 93% worldwide, there are just a few problems with the “chuck everything in the recycling bin” mentality.

We don’t want to put anyone off recycling their unwanted packaging. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when recommending cardboard for the recycle bin. Adding information to your boxes is a great way of keeping people informed and helping to improve recycling rates. Here’s what to watch for:

  • Grease and oil – contamination is a huge pain for recycling plants, so no pizza boxes in the recycling!
  • Wet cardboard – this adds weight to the “raw” (recycled) material and no recycler wants to pay more than they must.
  • Medical waste – not acceptable. Any contaminated medical or food packaging with blood etc should be disposed of correctly according to health and safety standards.
  • Waxed or plastic-coated cardboard – a huge problem for recycling plants. Coffee cups and waxed food containers are a huge waste problem that requires special and expensive treatment.

To answer the question above, we’d have to say that cardboard recycling is a necessary and important thing and well worth the effort required to correctly sort our waste so it can be turned into new cardboard repeatedly.


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