Why cardboard boxes are not eco-friendly?

Eco Friendly Packing Guide - March 19, 2021

Every relocation requires containers for packing your items in. Usually, this was the sole domain of cardboard boxes, as they are cheap to produce and use. However, these days we need to look at the bigger picture, especially since plastic bins are more prominent on the market. There are companies, such as Capital City Bins, that provide plastic moving containers specially made for relocations. With them in the picture, green relocations are much more likely to occur. But why cardboard boxes are not eco-friendly in the first place? The answer kind of gets really complicated, as it is based on numerous factors. In this article, we are going to shed some light on some of them, so you can better understand why it is in your best interest to utilize plastic containers for your move.

Cardboard boxes are not eco-friendly – List of factors

Here are the topics we will be covering in this article:

  • Materials analysis
  • Carbon footprint
  • Weight and transport
  • Recycling

These are the big factors that influence which packaging solution you will adopt. There might be more, local, factors but they are insignificant when you compare them to these. If you understand what creates the greatest pollution to our planet, you will be at a great spot to decide for yourself.

two cardboard boxes
Cardboard boxes are mainstream. But are they eco-friendly?

Materials analysis – why cardboard boxes are not eco-friendly

The first thing that we need to understand is how these boxes are made in the first place, what kind of raw materials are required. Cardboard boxes are made from paper, that comes from chopping down trees. While the trees are a “renewable” source, the difference comes from exploitation. If all the paper for these boxes came from the trees that are planted specifically for this purpose, there would not be a problem. However, most of the boxes are produced by deforesting areas around the glove. They rely on natural resources, much the same as plastic packing boxes for moving do. But the difference is that cardboard requires trees, whereas plastic only requires a bit of crude oil or natural gas. When we consider the materials involved, cutting down a tree is a big no-no, when the longevity of our planet is concerned.

The carbon footprint of cardboard

Cardboard and paper products require significant energy to produce and source. This is lessened a bit by the fact that more and more manufacturers are starting to use renewable energy sources in the way of biogas, hydroelectricity, biomass, etc. But the fact remains that the production of cardboard brings a lot of carbon emissions. We also need to take disposal, manufacturing, and sourcing into account as well. When we combine all these things, we come to the conclusion that cardboard boxes are not eco-friendly. We are much better off using green moving supplies, instead. In France, the cardboard federation reports that one ton of cardboard produces as much as 538kg of CO2 during its entire lifecycle. These are serious numbers that may concern anyone.

woman making a list, writing, cardboard boxes behind
The carbon footprint of cardboard boxes is not to be underestimated!

Weight has an impact

Now we come to the “big thing”. All these cardboard boxes need to get to their respective customers, after all. And their weight implicates further impact on the planet. The fact of the matter is that using cardboard boxes instead of plastic storage bins is going to put a lot more stress on the vehicles used for transport. To give you some perspective on the matter, a small cardboard box can weigh anywhere between 80 and 100 grams. The same plastic bin weighs only around 2 grams. That is a huge difference. What does this mean for packaging distributors? Well, it means that, let’s say 10 thousand cardboard boxes are going to weigh a literal ton. The plastic containers will weigh 20kg. That difference is really exacerbated when you look at it like that.

Transport and fuel make a huge difference

Needless to say, the fuel and associated materials that are required for transport are much lower in the case of plastic bins. Therefore, using plastic has less impact on the environment. They have a clear advantage in this regard. The weight-to-strength ratio is also much higher. However, with electric vehicles on the rise, cardboard might come a little closer, as emissions are going to be lower. In both cases, whether you are using plastic or cardboard, the best thing to do is to reduce the thickness and the weight of the packaging. But that might skew things even more towards plastic, as it is already light and incredibly durable, to begin with.

a moving truck on the road
Most of the emissions come from transport vehicles.

Recycling is a big factor

Next up, we need to talk about the recycling of cardboard boxes. Here are some facts: Recycling one ton of cardboard requires a quarter of the energy than making it anew. It also uses half the amount of water, too. This means that you always need to recycle your old boxes, your planet will thank you for it. But in the case of plastic, recycling is even more beneficial. New plastic, if you make it from recycled materials, uses only 35% to 12% of the energy needed for its original production. This is massive and means that recycling plastic is the way to go. After all, recycling is the way of the future. The sooner we all adopt it, the better. However, it is not a new thing by any margin. Recycling is extremely beneficial to the environment, and it is something that we all need to understand.

The more we recycle, the greener our planet will be.

Why cardboard boxes are not eco-friendly – Afterword

We simply have to use packing containers, that is a fact. However, we need to be aware of potential solutions and choose the best product on the market. The best for the planet, that is, not for ourselves. Doing anything else is selfish, to tell the truth. But we are not yet at the point where we have to adopt alternative packaging solutions, luckily. Recycling is just about the best thing that we can do, realistically speaking. Cardboard boxes are going to be there, regardless of whether some of us use them or not. While it is better to use plastic containers, as cardboard boxes are not eco-friendly, if you re-use the old ones, you are still doing your part.

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