The Case for Corrugated

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How cardboard provides the perfect packaging solution, for product, for people and for the planet…

With plastic packaging literally awash in our oceans – some 120 million tonnes recently estimated in the Atlantic alone – the world stands on the brink of a planet-wide packaging disposal disaster. The TV programme Blue Planet first lifted the lid on the sheer scale of this problem and the mainstream media was quick to follow up, initially reeling in horror and then demanding that the world’s governments take action to turn back the plastic tide. 

As a result, recycling rates rocketed, and councils across the country enforced the separation of recyclable material from the weekly/fortnightly kerbside collection, while plastic manufacturers themselves carried on their work in improving on long-established routes to greater sustainability, such as lightweighting, eliminating the use of single-use materials, and creating reusable and/or recyclable packaging. However, the fact remains that the likes of plastic bottles can only actually be recycled one to two times before being downcycled into, say, fabric for clothes. And, unfortunately, as most downcycled plastic cannot be recycled again, it eventually and inevitably still ends up as landfill.

To that end, the way forward for plastic is to attempt to achieve a circular economy. More on that can be read here.

So, with considerable damage already done, and still ongoing through the continued dumping of plastic packaging, it may seem like stating the obvious, but now is a critical turning point for the packaging industry as a whole, a time to come together to take decisive action to address the future, and look to far more sustainable solutions. Of course, I’m not suggesting that such a revolution will be easily achieved, or free from errors in judgement made along the way, but the planet depends on it being done.

The Circular Economy

To achieve sustainability in packaging, you must first look at what the term actually means. While many might simply assume that it’s about the infinite ability to recycle, it isn’t. While the likes of glass, aluminium and other metals used in some packaging can be recycled infinitely, they are also impractical and/or too expensive to be used in the volumes that today’s online mail order society demands.

But corrugated cardboard, whilst recyclable finite times due to fibres within the paper becoming shorter each time it is recycled, is relatively inexpensive to produce, can be shaped to provide stylish, strong and practical packaging for any use, and also adheres to the sustainability ideal known as the circular economy. By using paper reel from renewable, sustainably managed forests, boxes can be manufactured, products they protect can then be shipped safely to the end-user, then they can either be reused, collected to be recycled back into the paper reel, or left to biodegrade naturally and harmlessly. 100% recyclable, 100% renewable sources, and 100% compostable – this is why some 48 billion m2 corrugated board products are already produced every year, and 89% of that corrugated packaging is derived from recycled content.

The Rise of Ecommerce

There can be few people of the face of the planet, save for lost tribes in the namesake rainforest itself, who are unaware of the stratospheric rise of Amazon and the online mail order revolution that came with it. The death of the High Street has been blamed on many factors, such as rising business rates and inflation, declining wages and stagnant growth, lack of infrastructure and over expansion, but the one factor that carries most of the responsibility in this murderous metaphor is the unstoppable growth of Ecommerce.

Effectively removing consumers from the high street and making an irreversible change in the way the world shops, online retail also saw a sea-change in the way consumers interacted with the packaging their purchases arrived in. While good packaging design has always been a main consideration in the customer-engagement and off-the-shelf selection process, now it had to offer an entire experience. Arguably, this trend began with the slick, minimalist packaging offered by Apple and quicky aped by many other consumer electronics manufacturers. This gave rise to the YouTube unboxing video, of which there are currently millions available to watch, and opened up a whole new world of business-building opportunity…

Corrugated Paper Packaging is visible wherever goods are produced, transported and displayed! Since its invention almost 150 years ago, it has ensured the safe and hygienic transit of goods, protecting and wrapping about 70% of the world’s products from producer to consumer. It can be produced in any shape or size for optimal handling and distribution. Its interlocking stacking features minimise movement in transit. It can also be customised for easy opening and handling in-store.

FEFCO (The European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers)

Which, in a nutshell, sums it up nicely. But let’s look at the word ‘visibility’. As a business you need packaging you trust implicitly to ensure your products reach your customers in prime condition. But, more than that, if your packaging has been designed and printed to further promote your brand and your business ethic, then brand-loyalty and return sales are practically guaranteed. Add into that the message that you have chosen a packaging material that offers sustainability, and you are sending a clear message of conscious environmental awareness with every parcel you dispatch. 

Cardboard in the Time of Coronavirus

The full versatility of the cardboard box was called upon in a major way during COVID-19 lock-down. Not only was mail order at an all time high, with people trapped in their homes treating themselves to shiny new toys to keep themselves from going insane, but also pizza delivery rocketed.

BeyondTheBox is a sustainable packaging campaign initiated by CPI (Confederation of Paper Industries) and demonstrates how corrugated cardboard is recyclable, renewable, reusable and biodegradable, and Domino’s Pizza Group handed them the perfect case study.

“Domino’s Pizza Group has reported a rise in first half sales, driven by “rapid” growth in its UK delivery business during the coronavirus lock-down period”, CPI reported. At the onset of the lock-down period, Domino’s ceased customer collections, which accounted for 21% of sales and 31% of orders in 2019. However, its sales performance from delivery grew rapidly with an increase in order count and a growth in items per order and therefore average ticket. This increase in sales from delivery more than offset the lack of sales from collection, although total order count has declined during the period. You can find out more here. As Domino’s pizza box is made entirely from cardboard it is fully recyclable. And there is no need for concern about grease and any traces of food making the cardboard box problematic to recycle – just give it a wipe and stick it in the recycling bin.

Sussing Sustainability Out

Re-usable, recyclable, returnable, compostable. Sourced from paper from renewable forests and possibly manufactured in plants that run on equally sustainable energy sources (as we shall look at in the coming months), the case for corrugated carboard packaging as THE sustainable source of packaging material is strong. Add in its aforementioned strength and the endless Ecommerce benefits it can offer a business, and it more or less rests that case.

NB. January 2021 update. You may have read about shortages of supply in recent news articles that are causing major delays in supply. The Fencor Group has a stake in card manufacturing company Corrboard so you may want to check out this video about controlling the supply chain.