The Lifecycle of Cardboard

Cardboard is a staple material in the packaging industry, and there’s good reason – cardboard is easy to work with, becoming more and more sustainable, and incredibly versatile. That said, just where does cardboard come from? Where does its life begin? Where does it end? How does it end?

These are the questions we’ll be answering in today’s article. Read on to learn more about the life of this amazing material.

The Beginning

Cardboard begins its life as plants and trees. Reputable manufacturers will either buy from or maintain sustainable tree-harvesting forests, which are purpose-grown tree farms. After being harvested, these trees (plus wood chips and shavings from lumber mills) are broken down and pulped into a fibrous mass.

(At this point, any pulp made from recycled cardboard is introduced into the mixture.)

Once ready, the pulp mixture is rolled out and dried. That leaves us with…not cardboard, but sheets of kraft paper.

The Middle Pt.1

Giant rolls of kraft paper are sent out to cardboard manufacturers. Depending on the product’s destined purpose, the manufacturer will line, treat, crease, layer, and shape the kraft paper as needed until the cardboard forms.

Honeycomb cardboard, for example, is formed into a honeycomb pattern framed by flat sheets.

The cardboard is then shipped out to suppliers like us!

The Middle Pt.2

Cardboard is extremely versatile. As a material, it is used everywhere from space aeronautics to packaging material to pet products! Look around your office or home, and you’ll probably notice several products either made with or packaged in cardboard.

Suppliers will shape, cut, and construct the cardboard as needed. Here are a few of our favourite examples:

  • Custom packaging inserts
  • Temporary furniture
  • Hampers
  • Stationery
  • Kids cubby houses

Once the suppliers fulfil orders and distribute the cardboard products, it ends up in the hands of end-consumers, who see it through to the end of its life.

The End

There are three main ways used cardboard meets the end of its life.

Landfill

In an ideal world, all cardboard is put in the recycling bin once its purpose is fulfilled. That doesn’t always happen, though, and plenty of cardboard ends up in landfill.

In landfill, mass piles of cardboard can take years to decompose. Unfortunately, that slow decomposition also produces methane, one of the major greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. That’s just one reason why recycling cardboard is so important.

End-User Repurpose

Cardboard is a great material for end-users to repurpose!

Cardboard boxes are great storage. Broken down, they’re awesome craft materials for kids and creatives – we love donating honeycomb cardboard offcuts to local daycare centres as craft materials!

And yes, you can tear up cardboard and add it to your compost system, which is a great way to recycle cardboard contaminated by food.

Recycle

Responsibly disposing of cardboard means it will end up at a recycling centre. These centres clean, shred, and pulp the cardboard in preparation for it going back into the production cycle.

Now, you are correct in thinking that cardboard is not infinitely recyclable – cardboard can only be recycled into new cardboard 5-8 times before the fibres become too short and weak. But, that’s just one stage of cardboard recycling.

The (New) Beginning

Let’s say that the cardboard has been recycled. That means it’s been given another life and is reintroduced into the cardboard manufacturing cycle during the pulping stage. The materials become a fresh product, ready for use.

But what happens to cardboard that’s been recycled too many times? It’s repurposed! Egg cartons, newspapers, insulation, and toilet paper are all made using cardboard pulp, and hydro-mulching uses fibrous pulp to prevent soil erosion and nurture revegetation!

Those are just a few examples of how cardboard receives a new beginning over and over again.

 

People increasingly turn to cardboard as an alternative to styrofoam and plastic, and it’s not hard to see why. Cardboard is an amazing material – not just in how it can be used, but in how its life begins, ends, and begins again.

If you’re ready to explore the world of cardboard packaging, get in touch! We’d love to chat.