The Sustainability Question

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Sustainability. Noun.

  1. The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level. “the sustainability of economic growth”
  2. Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. “the pursuit of global environmental sustainability”

That’s what the dictionary says, but what actually is sustainability in packaging? The search for sustainability is the quest to satisfy our own needs and demands without compromising the planet and, indeed, the needs and demands of the generations that follow us.

When it comes to the field of corrugated cardboard, sustainability is strived for through strict adherence to the Circular Economy, in which paper is taken only from a renewable source, manufactured into corrugated packaging, and applied to meet the needs of the end-user/consumer. Once its job is done, that end-user decides what happens next – let the box biodegrade naturally or have it collected to be recycled back into the paper reel to begin its journey again.

This is how corrugated cardboard lends itself so perfectly to the concept of sustainability, as it works beautifully in conjunction with what the world authority on sustainability, John Elkington, coined the Triple Bottom Line of ‘people, planet and profit’, or society, environment and economy, if you prefer.

However, even paper’s ability to be recycled is reduced after reuse, giving a total number of five to seven cycles, compared to glass which can be recycled infinitely but is impractical for most packaging requirements. Aluminium and other metals also share glass’s recycling lifespan but are expensive. Then there is plastic, of course, which can only be recycled once or twice before being downcycled into a fabric before, ultimately, ending up as landfill.

So, returning to my opening question: what actually is sustainability in packaging? Well, when it comes to an option that is fit for purpose (people), environmentally friendly through renewable source, decomposition or recycling (planet), and affordable to produce (profit), there is one clear answer: corrugate cardboard is.