environmental impact of cardboard

The True Environmental Cost of Cardboard

This article was ghostwritten for Ecobox. It is written in British English.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that you’re better off choosing cardboard over plastic but, while plastic may not biodegrade like cardboard or paper does, the environmental cost of producing and recycling cardboard is actually much higher than plastic.

When making a decision about the greenest option, it’s not enough to only consider the end product; one also has to take the production process into consideration. It’s easy to assume that plastic is more ecologically damaging because it contributes so heavily to pollution; however, it doesn’t use nearly as much water to manufacture or recycle when compared to paper or cardboard and, as long as the plastic is recycled or reused, it could easily be considered the more environmentally friendly choice.

The impact of paper production on the environment

The most obvious impact on our environment from paper and cardboard production is the rapid depletion of our trees and forests, which are vital for the absorption of carbon and production of oxygen. Deforestation also results in the extinction of animals, the destruction of ecosystems, changes to climate conditions and desertification. We lose 30 million acres of forest every year, with 35% of these harvested trees being used in paper product manufacturing.

Cardboard also uses a lot of water to produce, taking 324 litres of water to make just one kilogramme. That’s roughly the same as the average daily consumption per person in a developed country. The paper industry uses more water per tonne of product than any other industry in the world.

Paper and cardboard production also produces more pollution than plastic. Some studies have found that the process to create paper emits 80% more greenhouse gases and also results in 50 times the water pollutants1. Chlorine bleaching of the wood pulp results in harmful organic materials, such as chlorinated dioxins, being released into waterways. Dioxins are not only a known carcinogen but can also cause reproductive and developmental issues.

Energy consumption is also an issue. Plastic production may use petroleum but making cardboard consumes four times the energy and the recycling process is also inefficient in comparison. The paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy in the world1.

Despite being recyclable, a large percentage of paper and cardboard products also end up in landfill, where they rot and produce methane, which is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Plastic may not biodegrade but it also doesn’t rot which means it never releases any greenhouse gases unless it’s burned.

Is plastic the way to go?

When considering the entire lifespan of the product, plastic boxes produce far fewer emissions than cardboard boxes, which are not only taxing on natural resources to produce but tend to be single-use. A single Ecobox can save 3.5 fully-grown trees over its lifetime.

We can’t deny that plastic poses its own risks to the environment when it is disposed of; however, if it’s reused whenever possible and recycled when this is no longer an option, then it is by far the more eco-friendly option in the long-term. Our Ecoboxes are reused up to 400 times each and when they are retired due to damage or wear, we recycle them into new boxes which are put straight back into circulation.

Ecoboxes are the convenient, safe and eco-friendly option when moving house. Get in touch today to order your boxes.