Striking a balance between effective food packaging and hitting sustainability targets is a challenge. No matter what option you go for, any sort of food packaging that actually works for agricultural produce— whether it’s broccoli, citrus, or cucumbers— must be manufactured. This can create waste and use energy to be produced. The trick is to choose the one that hits all targets, and at the lowest possible impact on the environment.

This is why corrugated packaging is quickly becoming one of the leading candidates in the industry for sustainable packaging. What is it that makes corrugated one of the best sustainable packaging options? While it’s not perfect, there are many reasons why it’s a forerunner today. And why sticking with and improving upon it as a leading model will help the industry steadily get closer to ideal sustainability goals.

Corrugated has a greatly reduced waste stream

This is a leading facet of the sustainability of corrugated packaging. Many tend to get caught up in the sustainability sourcing approaches, location, recyclability etc. when it comes to sustainability. We often forget that sustainability has just as much to do with how much waste is produced during its creation as it does with how it was extracted, harvested and/or processed.

Thankfully, the creation of corrugated paper and cardboard products doesn’t create a whole lot of waste in many ways. The following points build on this first highlight of corrugated quite impressively.

Yes, corrugated is recyclable

Corrugated packaging and products are famously recyclable. Not to mention: many kinds are re-created and sourced from materials that are in themselves recycled too, such as newspaper, other box types, paper pulp, etc. While some are made freshly from recently sourced materials, you can easily also expect that your corrugated packaging is just another incarnation of something else that came before.

Compared to other packaging solutions, corrugated can reach the 100% recycled materials benchmark much easier than say, recycled plastic, aluminum, wood or other options. When not at that benchmark however, it’s not uncommon to easily access corrugated packaging that reaches at least 70% recycled materials. We should point out that it takes far less energy to create corrugated recycled goods than it does to make recycled products from other different kinds of materials!

It can be made from renewable resources

Corrugated products are great candidates for being created from recyclable materials. Companies that manufacture this packaging, and who also have high sustainability goals, can hit these targets by having paper sourced from timber or logging plantations that themselves have high sustainability goals as well: namely, logging or timber companies that work with forests as renewable paper resources.

It doesn’t take much for a company to source and harvest trees sustainably, and with the health and future of a forest in mind. Many may not realize that the right type of logging, with certain forestry practices in mind, can actually be good for ecosystems, if a certain focus is placed on the types of trees felled and acquired. This means that corrugated packaging, when undertaken with the right sourcing company, can be made with no harmful dent whatsoever on the environment. In fact, partnered with the right logging company and practices, it could actually do the environment some good.

Corrugated is becoming more and more reusable

The technology for creating durable, reliable and fully reusable corrugated packaging is on the up and up. Some may associate certain cardboard and paper products as being non-reusable, but this is changing rapidly.

Wax-coated corrugated packing is a huge prospect here. However, even non-waxed or other non-coated options present as robust and reusable options — easily collapsible for storage and later use — with strong and resilient corners that withstand handling or transport. Not to mention, corrugated boxes of many kinds have strong resistance to moisture, staining and even holding potentially harmful bacteria or pathogens. These continue to be an industry leader when it comes to safe and reliable food and produce packaging.

It requires less energy to create

You also must take into account how much energy (electricity, power, carbon output, transport, etc.) goes into the creation of a product in order to get the full scope of its sustainability. With corrugated packaging, once again you’re in luck: across many industry standards, it takes a lower amount of energy and emissions to be created.

One of the biggest impacts that makes corrugated low-energy: it’s not always made from “virgin” materials (i.e. those freshly harvested or resourced), and can often be re-made from recycled products. This makes a huge dent in how much energy it consumes to be created. It also doesn’t take a whole lot of transport to create corrugated packaging. Most companies source the materials needed (i.e. logging) right nearby their factories which cuts down on the required transport emissions required for these sustainable packaging solutions to be created. Another plus!

Harmless and biodegradable

Some corrugated packaging can be chemically treated. But the vast majority does not need to be in order to be effective or competitive. In fact, you will find that most corrugated materials are not chemical-laden in the least. This means that you have a low impact biodegradable material on your hands.

Especially when compared to plastic packaging, there is an enormous sustainability advantage: these paper products will biodegrade in a much shorter time, and their impact in the meantime on the environment before they full break down is minimal. No leaching of chemicals, microplastics, etc. into soil, wildlife, water tables, rivers, streams, oceans and even our bodies to eventually cause health harms or loss of wildlife. Eventually corrugated packaging will entirely vanish, while plastic will remain on the earth for decades (if not centuries.) 

More customizable solutions — and what this has to do with sustainability

What makes corrugated packaging especially low-energy? It’s completely customizable: many shapes, sizes, and purposes fulfilled by a wide number of options and models. What this means is that you don’t see surplus of materials go unused or wasted; no huge sizes for small products, etc. Varying sizes depending on the product — in comparison to one-size-fits-all, limited, and scrappy plastic product solutions — means you get a manufacturing option that wastes far less material because every inch of material goes towards an important purpose, and there are TONS of options.

At Fruit Growers Supply, we convert well over one billion square feet of corrugated boxes, sheets, and trays every year reaching from Salinas, CA, to Baja California, Mexico, and all the way into Nogales, AZ. We use approximately 37% recycled materials in our boxes, participate in the SFI program, and choose to source paper from SFI participant vendors.

Have any questions? We’re happy to help – stop in one of our supply stores today, or fill out our contact form by clicking below.


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