Examining Cardboard’s Environmental Credentials

Examining Cardboard’s Environmental Credentials

Cardboard is an abundant packaging material, used globally, but consumers are still asking “is cardboard eco-friendly?”.

The good news is that cardboard has some great eco credentials. It can be recycled efficiently and biodegrades naturally with no harmful residues, meaning it’s safe even when added to landfill. In this article, we’ll dig a little deeper into how cardboard production works and how it compares to plastic packaging.

Sustainable Raw Materials

Cardboard is derived from wood, a renewable resource, making it one of the most sustainable packaging materials available. We make efforts to source our cardboard from FSC® managed forests and other renewable sources, to help prevent deforestation. The Forest Stewardship Council ensures that the trees harvested are replaced or allowed to regrow naturally, as well as protecting forests to safeguard animals, plants, and indigenous peoples.

Renewable forests also help to absorb the carbon emitted during the life cycle of cardboard packaging and help balance the carbon footprint of a business.

High Recycling Rates

As mentioned, cardboard recycling is remarkably effective, but how exactly is cardboard recycled? It feels like bit of a mystery where the boxes go once they leave your doorstep, but the actual process is fairly simple, taking just five steps:

  1. The cardboard is taken to a recycling plant where it is sorted and shredded
  2. The shredded cardboard is then mixed with water to soften it and create a pulp
  3. This pulp is filtered to remove any extraneous materials like tape, staples, or other bits and pieces
  4. Next, more water is added while the pulp is pressed and stirred to achieve the right consistency
  5. Finally, the fibres are pressed through rollers and the drying process is started to turn the pulp into paper

In the UK, around 70-80% of paper and cardboard packaging is recycled annually and it can go on to be recycled several times over.

The Carbon Emissions Debate

Due to the eco credentials we’ve covered so far, many brands have shifted to using cardboard and paper to achieve plastic reduction targets. For example, Marks and Spencer replaced plastic produce bags with paper versions, and H&M swapped in-store plastic bags for paper ones.

However, there are a lot more environmental factors to consider than just using sustainable and recyclable materials. For example, some studies show that paper production is more energy-intensive than plastic and leads to higher carbon emissions. In addition to this, corrugated boxes are significantly heavier than plastic mailers, meaning higher transport emissions and fuel costs. This has led to some brands, like ASOS, to stick with plastic packaging.

However, no matter the emissions produced during production and transit, it’s impossible to ignore the end-of-life impact of the materials once they’re done with. Despite efforts to increase plastic recycling in the UK, much plastic and cardboard packaging is still sent to landfill. While cardboard will biodegrade completely in a short period of time, it’s common knowledge that plastic can take decades to degrade. A lot of plastic also ends up in the ocean where it negatively affects marine life and contributes to microplastics in water supplies.

So, is cardboard eco friendly?

We’d like to answer with a resounding yes! Cardboard’s environmental credentials are strong, with its renewable origin, high recycling rates, and composability. The overall sustainability of cardboard makes it the best choice for your packaging.