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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jan/Feb 2002 : Special Section

Special Section
Leader of the Pack

Recycled paperboard is becoming the preferred packaging among a broad range of industries.

Switching to recycled paperboard packaging can cut costs, demonstrate environmental leadership and maintain package quality, according to a new report by the Alliance for Environmental Innovation entitled “Greener Cartons: A Buyer’s Guide to Recycled-Content Paperboard.”

“The quality, variety and availability of recycled-content paperboard have improved dramatically in recent years,” said Bruce Hammond, Alliance paperboard project manager. “The best recycled paperboards now compete head-on with bleached virgin boards in terms of performance and appearance, but usually cost less.”

Paperboard is used to make the folding cartons that package a broad range of consumer products, from over-the-counter medicines to fast food, software and cereal. More than half the products on supermarket shelves are now packaged in recycled paperboard. In addition, the 100% Paperboard Alliance also reports that new market segments, such as pharmaceuticals, refrigerated foods, electronics and overnight delivery services, are discovering that recent improvements make 100 percent recycled paperboard a desirable alternative to “virgin” paperboard.

Kodak made the switch from virgin to recycled-content paperboard a decade ago. “Today’s film cartons contain a minimum 75 percent post-consumer content, and the company has realized significant cost savings from the changeover,” said Kodak senior packaging engineer Gaylynn Durkin.

Other top brand names that are packaged in recycled-content paperboard include Warner Bros. videos and DVDs, Excedrin and Celebrex painkillers, Clairol Natural Instincts and Wella haircolor, UPS and FedEx overnight shipping envelopes, Duracell batteries, Hewlett-Packard printer cartridges and Gillette Sensor shaving cartridges.

Innovations in American Marketing
From its start in 1881 at a small mill in Philadelphia, PA, 100 percent recycled paperboard has been one of the key packaging solutions that make mass branded merchandising possible. Before then, most products were shipped in bulk and sold from barrels in small neighborhood stores. The folding carton made with 100 percent recycled paperboard was a true revolution in product distribution. It allowed manufacturers to create a wider distribution area and print brand images on their packaging. One of the first products to take advantage of this was the American classic, Quaker Oats Oatmeal—packaged in 100 percent recycled paperboard.

In the 1950s, some manufacturers began to use “virgin” paperboard, made from new tree fibers for their folding cartons and 100 percent recycled paperboard’s market share slowly decreased.

With the first Earth Day in 1970, a paradigm shift occurred. Americans began paying closer attention to the environment and more people started recycling efforts at home and in the office. Consumers were demanding that products be packaged in recycled materials. This shift focused renewed attention on the use of 100 percent recycled paperboard.

Mainstream Acceptance
Paper recycling is no longer a special attitude held by a small percentage of the population. Rather, as a mainstream consumer behavior it has become integrated into the daily habits of over 90 percent of the households in the United States. Today, entire communities across the country routinely collect paper and paperboard to be remade into 100 percent recycled paperboard. Surveys indicate that consumers are becoming more sophisticated recyclers and increasingly look for the recycling symbol on products. A national mall intercept survey of 200 shoppers, conducted by Leflein Associates, Inc. in March 2000 for the 100% Paperboard Alliance, revealed that 75 percent of consumers want to see the new 100 percent recycled paperboard symbol on packages, and 59 percent would choose to purchase a product carrying the new symbol instead of a package without it.

Environmental Savings
“The post-consumer content of the paperboard is what creates the greatest environmental savings,” said Hammond. “Companies have several different types of recycled-content paperboard to choose from, including paperboards that layer recycled materials between outer layers of virgin fibers, as well as board made from 100 percent recovered materials.”

The Alliance for Environmental Innovation calculates that switching to only 35 percent post-consumer recycled-content for U.S. medicine and cosmetic cartons would create the following annual environmental benefits:

• 156,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided—the amount of greenhouse gas pollution from 27,000 cars driven 200 miles a week.

• 2.6 billion gallons of wastewater avoided—the discharge from 27,000 households.

• 510,000 fewer tons of trees used—the trees required to make the copy paper used by 11 million people.

• 106,000 tons of solid waste avoided—the trash generated by 49,000 households.

Continued Solid Growth
“The 100% Recycled Paperboard Alliance has introduced three initiatives in North America to assure our continued leadership in folding cartons and our critical role in America’s recycling,” notes Lynn Harrelson, managing director of the 100% Recycled Paperboard Alliance. “First, the nation’s mills have made significant improvements in the quality and performance of 100 percent recycled paperboard. Second, the industry has been executing a sophisticated branding program that includes an updated, distinctive recycling symbol and makes heroes out of the packaged goods companies that use it. Third, we are conducting an on-going educational effort to build consumer awareness of 100 percent recycled paperboard.”

Paperboard packaging has become a highly competitive category. Marketers and packaging engineers choose between 100 percent recycled paperboard that is made from fibers recovered from used paper products and virgin paperboard made from new tree fibers.

In 1994, the American Forest and Paper Association joined with the U.S. Department of Energy to launch Agenda 2020, an innovative, collaborative research program. Through Agenda 2020, a consortium of research institutions, industry and national laboratories is developing new technologies, processes and measurements to manufacture products more efficiently and cost-effectively while reducing environmental impacts of operations and maximizing the efficient use and reuse of resources.

To meet these objectives, Agenda 2020 identified six technology focus areas for collaborative research efforts. These six task groups represent a broad cross section of the forest products industry, including: Sustainable Forest Management; Environmental Performance; Energy Performance; Improved Capital Effectiveness; Recycling; and Sensors and Controls.

Research in the Agenda 2020 recycling area is aimed at reducing energy usage, improving fiber yield and eliminating stickies contamination. These activities form the basis to significantly improve and expand the use of recycled fiber. The targeted research pathways encourage development toward these goals. A new, top priority research pathway was also defined to support the development and characterization of new pressure sensitive adhesives. Break through work is sought to commercialize removable adhesives that help circumvent high processing costs associated with stickies.

Significant quality improvements by the 100 percent recycled paperboard industry have led to the development of competitive, versatile products that are fueling increased demand. From moisture-resistant refrigerated food boxes to crisp, smooth pharmaceutical packages printed with the sharpest type and brightest graphics, the industry has successfully developed packaging options for the changing needs of the marketplace. These improvements have given package goods manufacturers new opportunities to be part of America’s recycling effort while meeting the quality and performance expectations of their consumers.

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