Is Cardboard Packaging Better for the Environment?

Published On: February 11, 20220 Comments on Is Cardboard Packaging Better for the Environment?Last Updated: June 20, 20243.5 min read

CO2 emissions have doubled since 1990, oil demand is at all-time highs, methane is constantly released into our atmosphere, plastic is filling up our seas, and we constantly break new temperature records. In such an environment, not only is their massive pressure from the government on companies to be more environmentally friendly through laws and regulations but there’s also pressure from customers, sponsors, investors, etc. It is more important than ever to be environmentally friendly.

cardboard boxes on a meadow

One inevitable question you’re going to face when designing and manufacturing and shipping your products is the kind of packaging you should use. Since a lot of packaging is made out of plastic, it has quite a substantial impact on the environment. In this article, we’ll explore cardboard packaging as an alternative, and how it is better for the environment in almost all aspects.

#1 Cardboard Production has Minimal Environmental Impact

Cardboard production has very little impact on the environment — do you know how plastic is manufactured? It is a derivative of crude oil or natural gas. Crude oil extraction itself is very environmentally harmful and CO2 intensive, but not only that, then that oil is heavily processed, and one of the byproducts is plastic. Cardboard, on the other hand, is manufactured from tree fibres. Trees are cut down and processed to make cardboard. Although this might sound environmentally harmful, it isn’t exactly that simple.

Trees only actually consume CO2 while they’re alive — once they start dying, trees start decaying or burning, and both of these processes release substantial amounts of the CO2 the tree consumes back into the air. That’s why trees aren’t the CO2 sinkholes people think they are. The processing that happens when trees are converted into cardboard, although isn’t exactly environmentally friendly, produces far less CO2, methane, etc. than the process of crude oil extraction and refinement that is required to produce plastic. There’s no competition.

#2 Recyclable

Plastic, manufactured through traditional methods, was almost impossible to recycle. That’s why it was either dumped into landfills or the sea. And although, right now, many countries are starting to ban ‘single-use plastic bags’, the plastic would still only be recycled once or twice. This is far from being environmentally friendly. On top of all this, the recycling process for plastic is energy-intensive and releases a lot of CO2.

Carbon neutral cardboard box

Cardboard, on the other hand, is not only recyclable a multitude of times, it is also extremely easy to recycle. You don’t need complex machinery and large amounts of energy to recycle massive quantities of cardboard. It doesn’t stop there either. Recycled plastic is of a lower grade and quality than first-use plastic. This relegates recycled plastic use to secondary activities and doesn’t truly displace our demand for fresh plastic. Cardboard, on the other hand, retains its quality after it’s been recycled. It can be used for the exact same purposes all over again.

#3 Minimal Waste Produced

As we mentioned above, raw materials need to go through a lot of processing before plastic is produced, and at each stage, there’s a mountain of waste produced. From gas flared at the oil fields in Russia and Iran to the waste produced during crude refinement, the process of producing plastic is riddled with environmentally harmful byproducts. This doesn’t apply at all to cardboard, however. There’s minimal waste produced during the processing, manufacturing, and recycling of cardboard. Some of the byproducts can be used as mulch for gardens and animal husbandry, in fact. An entirely different picture from plastic.

When Should You Be Using Sustainable Packaging? an infographic provided by Eagle Flexible Packaging, an organization specializing in coffee bag packaging


Environmental degradation is becoming a serious concern, and due to broader trends, cardboard is expected to replace plastic as the primary packaging material more and more. That’s why we decided to look at the advantages of cardboard packaging for the environment in this article.

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