Pulp Magic

JULY 28, 2016

Cardboard is One of the Most Recycled Materials on the Planet, and That’s Just the Beginning of Its Sustainability Story

A recent article (“Why Is There So Much Cardboard” By Katy Steinmetz, 6/30/16) published by TIME Magazine, doesn’t tell the whole story on the ecology and the economics of packaging made from paper. The article ends by questioning when consumers’ taste for the speed and convenience of e-commerce will be “matched by their demand for businesses to consider the environmental costs” of the paper-based packaging in which many of these goods are shipped. We sent the following response which went unacknowledged so we are posting it here.

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To the Editor—Boxes

Anyone who works with America’s paper and packaging companies knows that sustainability is already a top concern for customers and consumers. Our companies are strongly incentivized to be more efficient—to make stronger, lighter, tougher packaging using less pulp—not just because it’s good for the environment, but because it makes them more competitive.

Steinmetz correctly notes that about two-thirds of paper-based material is currently recycled (66.8 percent in 2015, to be exact—an all-time record). But your readers might not know that when you isolate containerboard, the subject of Steinmetz’s article, the recycling and recovery rate is a staggering 92.9 percent.

And recyclability isn’t the end of the story for paper-based packaging’s sustainability. Demand for paper-based products like containerboard incentivizes the growing of more trees. which is part of the reason tree volume in American forests has increased 50 percent since the 1950s.

So readers may feel guilty about splurging on online purchases. But they have no reason to feel guilty about the boxes that carry them.