Cardboard, ProntoPack

Recycled cardboard:
is all that glitters green?

When we think of sustainable packaging, we immediately think of recycled cardboard. But this is not always the case: very often it is just about greenwashing. Let’s try to clarify a little.

What is greenwashing and why do companies practice it?

Greenwashing is a communication or marketing strategy pursued by companies, institutions, bodies that present their activities as environmentally friendly, trying to hide their negative environmental impact.

The goal is usually to hide the truth or to shift the consumer’s attention to minor ecological statements, in order to hide attitudes that are anything but virtuous and implement false labels.

A representative example is the expression “100% recyclable” that we happen to see on some packaging (not only made of cardboard) and immediately makes us think that the packaging is recycled… but, as we know, recyclable and recycled  are not synonymous!

Recycled and sustainable packaging? Not always!

Speaking of cardboard, one might think that virgin fibers are harmful to the environment and that recycled fibers are preferable.

The truth is that it is not so, or rather: it is good to clarify.
The carbon footprint of recycled packaging can be even greater than packaging made from virgin wood fibers. The researchers found out that if all waste paper were recycled, emissions could increase by 10% due to the fossil fuels used in the paper recycling process.

On the other hand, to produce paper and cardboard certified paper mills grow forests, and this reduces emissions.
Recycling is good for the environment and for the circular economy, but we must also consider that each cardboard only has a maximum of 7 lives, equal to the times when the fiber can be recycled before it becomes unusable.

Every time cardboard undergoes the recycling process, a part of the fibers is lost and some characteristics, such as strength or rigidity, decrease. It is for these reasons that a share of virgin fibers is also included in each recycled cardboard.

Pay special attention to recycled food packaging!

When choosing the material for a packaging, its characteristics should be carefully evaluated to avoid damaging the contents.

Recycled fiber packaging is not always suitable, especially when hygiene and safety are crucial: for packaging with food purposes, virgin fiber is to be preferred.
Recycled fibers may contain remains such as printing inks, adhesives and paints that should not come into direct contact with food and that may be harmful to human health.

Food packaging made from recycled cardboard typically includes other materials to protect food from potential contamination. Often it is plastic, which increases the carbon footprint of the packaging and can make the recycling process more complicated.

So is recycling wrong?

Absolutely not, recycling is essential.

But even more important than simple recycling is the attention to the choice of certified virgin fiber cardboards, which respect forests, biodiversity and that have a specific attention to their carbon footprint in the world!

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