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An economical run to sustainability

Plastic or paper-based materials, which is better?


Media gives corrugated cardboard a bad name. Mainstream media gives plastic a bad name. Sometimes it is hard to decipher between bias and validated points to come to a definitive decision. The stigma around corrugated is its generation of CO2. We won't deny that our industry sector has had a large carbon footprint. We use the present perfect tense here, not unintentionally. While the corrugated industry still has a lot of work to do to improve our environmental impact, we are making substantial progress! But nothing is worth stating without evidence, correct? Right!-


Over 50% of energy used in EU paper mills is from renewable resources

UK papermaking reduced total energy use by 34% per tonne of paper made between 1990 and 2010

Emissions of fossil carbon have reduced by 1.6m tonnes or 42%

Paper mills often build own power plants (CHP) combined Heat and Power that allow heat normally wasted in electricity generation to be used. Many are powered by waste wood which reduces emissions of fossil carbon – “zero carbon” production

Single most recycled packaging: 92.9% of corrugated produced in 2015 was recovered for recycling

Thanks to the industry and sustainability, in Spain 400000 hectares of trees exist that would not otherwise.

Corrugated industry recycles over 70% fibreboard produced each year,UK alone in 2013 recycled 84% of 2 million tonnes produced each year – industry constantly improving its environmental impact


This is only a demonstration of our collective endeavours to reduce our energy use. There are many other ways in which we are continuously improving and that is helped by challenges to the industry which result in the tightening of environmental regulations. 

Another major cause of a heavy carbon footprint is the delivery of packaging. With the developments of finer, yet sturdy flutes, pallet and transport space are optimised. In addition to this, a current focus for manufacturers is "best-fit" packaging. Not only does the economise on packaging, but also on waste from damaged goods and empty space within the box. 


Comparatively, the plastics industry has a lower carbon footprint. All wonderful, so far. However, what most people forget is that the toxins in plastic cause huge damage and the rapidly-growing industry is causing the depletion of our NON-renewable sources to make products that will not be able to be disposed of for centuries to come. Considering that more plastic ends up in landfill or in fact oceans than cardboard, it simply isn't as easy to recycle plastic as it is cardboard.  should we not begin to question their motives for environmental responsibility? The paper-based packaging sector is always finding new, innovative avenues to improve its environmental impact. So, you may ask, plastic is just an eye-sore, but other than that, there isn't a great problem? The truth is, while bio decompose, paper omits CO2, plastics can take hundreds of years to degrade and they omit toxins when they come into contact with water and fire. These toxins cause huge damage to humans, some chemicals released being carcinogens and to the planet's flora and fauna. 

 

Some argue that the plastic industry :

Requires 39% less total energy

Produces 95% less total solid waste

Generates 29% less total greenhouse gas emissions


 

However, if these statistics are not updated, they are not viable. As we have shown above, the paper sector is relentlessly improving their approach to sustainability. What exactly is the plastic industry doing to improve their impact on our environment? Moreover, "A study by Ceres Logistics (Study to consider the comparative cost of corrugated cases and reuseable plastic containers, 2007) using sugar snap peas as an example, found that for exactly the same number of items per tray, corrugated is 33% more space efficient than returnable packaging in other materials, saving 141 lorry journeys." While yes, this post was published in 2013, I mentioned above that the industry is continuously developing new fluting to improve space-efficiency and particularly with the rise of e-commerce thanks to American shopping trends, like Black Friday, packaging is having to improve it's fit to keep products safe, to fit postal requirements and to ensure that the packaging economises in all aspects. 

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