Plastic is more durable than corrugated in many cases; fact. It also produces fewer emissions in production and transportation than cardboard and paper. However, we’ve all seen the distressing images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, 1.8 billion pieces of floating plastic (three times the size of France), floating between California and Hawaii, the world’s most extensive ocean waste repository. And, of course, the harrowing pictures of marine wildlife strangled by plastic bags and ingesting so many plastic particles that end up in the food chain.
Even though the initial perception is that paper/cardboard is a lot more environmentally friendly, we also need to consider the carbon emissions created during cardboard and plastic packaging production. Environmental considerations arise not just during the manufacturing process; the greenhouse gasses released when sourcing raw materials and the emissions created when disposing of the end products are also significant.
So, which is genuinely more sustainable? First, let’s look at the reasons for and against Cardboard vs Plastic packaging when considering their impact on the environment.
The Carbon Footprint of Manufacturing each Product
>It is true that cardboard products also require a significant amount of energy to source and produce. However, the global carbon footprint of the cardboard industry is relatively low, only around 1%. Manufacturers tend to use renewable energy sources such as biomass, biogas, and hydroelectricity. In many cases, paper and cardboard factories use their waste products as a source of fuel.
Also, corrugated cardboard is often produced without dyes or bleaches, further reducing its footprint and recyclability level.
Corrugated board is an eco-friendly packaging material comprised of recyclable materials like used cardboard and old newspapers. Among the most widely recycled material globally, some corrugated board is made from 100% recycled materials! The average composition is from 70 to 90% recycled materials, which still beats plastic packaging by a long shot. [Source: Smithers]
Corrugated packaging is also reusable – many times, boxes are folded up and stored for use again in offices, at home and in some stores. Recycling is a far better option as opposed to allowing chemicals to contaminate our oceans. Sometimes, however, it is more energy-intensive to recycle certain types of plastic. In addition, some materials, such as food pouches and polystyrene, are technically recyclable but are unlikely to be recycled.
- Plastic: 40% is recycled, 30% is sent to landfill, and 30% is incinerated.
- Cardboard: 86% is recycled, 10% is sent to landfill, and 7% is incinerated.
Remember that there are other advantages to recycling that aren’t as obvious, such as the significant savings of energy and water.
How biodegradable is it really?
Light breaks plastic down, so it photo-degrades rather than biodegrades. Estimates say that this process can take up to 500 or even 1000 years in landfills only solution is to recycle as much waste as possible, especially with plastic. Many global companies are finding processes to reuse plastic waste from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is excellent news for the whole planet.[source: Pollutions On Line]
Many of the UK’s big retail brands have shown a recent move towards more eco-friendly packaging. For example, Marks and Spencer and H&M have both now replaced plastic produce bags with paper versions. Whilst Europe’s largest fashion only e-tailer, Zalando, has pledged to eliminate single-use plastics by 2023.
Why corrugated cardboard is king
Corrugated board is an eco-friendly packaging material comprised of recyclable materials like used cardboard boxes and old newspapers. In addition, corrugated cardboard is often produced without dyes or bleaches, further reducing its footprint and level of recyclability.