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When it comes to packaging boxes, it is clear that corrugated cardboard is the clear winner. A market leader, corrugated cardboard boxes boast many advantages over heavier boxes made from metal, glass and plastic.
One of the biggest advantages of cardboard is how easy it can be recycled and reused, ideal for competitive businesses that want to demonstrate their environmental responsibility to buyers. But should businesses always try to purchase recycled cardboard? And is it really wasteful to invest in non-recycled (virgin) cardboard?
In this article, Crownhill explores the differences between virgin and recycled cardboard, noting the advantages and disadvantages of each one and their sustainability.
Virgin cardboard is cardboard that has been generated and has yet to be recycled. It is the first form of cardboard in the sustainability cycle.
Virgin cardboard is sometimes preferred over recycled versions due to its quality. Made in a paper mill or processing centre to form kraft paperboard, virgin cardboard has very robust wood fibres ideal for heavy-duty or premium-quality packaging.
However, manufacturing virgin cardboard is an intensive process — especially since it consumes both energy and raw materials like wood. Its strength and quality can be also unnecessary for basic packaging functions where slightly weaker forms of recycled cardboard can easily serve the same purpose.
Recycled cardboard is the result of virgin cardboard that has been processed through one or more recycles.
Cardboard is first recycled by being sent to a recycling center, where it is separated from other forms of waste. It is then stripped of any unwanted contaminants and compressed to maximize space economy. Once compressed, the cardboard is sent to a processing center and turned back into paper products like kraft paperboard. The result of this process is recycled cardboard.
It should be noted that recycled cardboard is an umbrella term rather than a specific type of cardboard. This is because paper fibres can be recycled multiple times but cannot be ‘upcycled’ back into a higher-quality product. Recycled cardboard therefore weakens each time it is recycled. After up to 10 recycles, the quality of the fibre has degraded so that it serves no viable use. Virgin cardboard must then replace it in the sustainability cycle.
Sustainability is essential in any business’ logistics strategy. Not only can it help keep costs low and reduce the strain on natural materials, but it also appeals to a majority of consumers, who are becoming increasingly more conscious of their own environmental impact.
With all that in mind, it is easy to assume that recycled cardboard is the clear frontrunner in sustainable packaging for your products compared to virgin cardboard.
However, that is not necessarily always the case. Although recycled cardboard might put less strain on the production of raw materials and reduce deforestation, the process of recycling it can have less visible environmental consequences.
The most significant of these consequences involve the energy used to actually recycle the materials. In some cases, the environmental benefit of recycled cardboard could be redundant if the recycling process involves intense use of polluting fuels like coal.
For this reason, it is very important to select a packaging supplier who you can trust to offer quality packaging materials with minimal environmental impact.
On the other hand, virgin cardboard does place a heavier strain on raw materials. If left unchecked, it can also contribute to deforestation. But that truly is an ‘if’ factor. In fact, virgin cardboard can be safely manufactured to minimize the impact on the environment and raw materials, particularly if done with a reputable packaging supplier.
Whichever packaging option you choose for your business needs, it is worth noting that both types of cardboard are significantly more sustainable than plastic, glass and metal alternatives.
Choosing quality packaging is an essential step for any business to take in their shipping process. If you are looking for reliable packaging from an innovative and sustainable supplier, consider Crownhill Packaging. We champion environmentally-responsible packaging solutions that never compromise on quality or affordability. Contact us today to learn more!