Cardboard boxes are greener than plastic alternatives?

Cartonboard is an industry name for non-corrugated cardboard or packaging card.

The research compares the cradle-to-grave carbon footprint of the complete packaging around a product, rather than comparing materials by weight.

“It’s known that the carbon impact per tonne of material is much lower for cartonboard than polymers regardless of whether you look just at fossil emissions or also take the biogenic emissions and removals into consideration,” said Pro Carton general manager Tony Hitchin. “We wanted to compare products on a per-unit basis as cartonboard packaging may not weigh the same as a fossil-based solution. Furthermore, the conversion and end-of-life impacts for each of the solutions will be different. That’s why in this study we have compared specific packaging solutions for the similar products on a cradle-to-grave basis.”

Cradle-to-grave comparisons include everything from mining or growing the raw materials to final disposal.

The study reports both fossil green-house-gas (GHG) emissions from non-renewable sources and biogenic GHG emissions and removals – removals are from atmospheric CO2 used by photosynthesis for biomass growth.

“Whilst the unique aspects of the life-cycle of fibre-based packaging are taken into account when calculating the total carbon footprint, we also wanted to see what the results would be when only the fossil GHG emissions were considered,” said Hitchin.

RISE 5m long HDMI cable packaging case study – figures are kg of CO2e per 1,000 packaged products

  Fossil GHG emissions Biogenic GHG emissions Biogenic GHG removals dLUC emissions Total GHG emissions and removals
Carton 45.5 37.4 -59.9 0.3 23.3
PVC blister plus cartonboard fitments 235.5 20.2 -32.3 0.2 223.6

Pre packaging factory carbon footprints according to RISE

Cradle-to-factory ready
for making packaging
total carbon footprint
kg CO2e per tonne
fossil carbon footprint
kg CO2e per tonne
cartonboard 262 1,047 Pro Carton
amorphous PET granulate 3,093 3,089 Ecoinvent 3.6
PP 2,110 2,122 Ecoinvent 3.6
PVC 2,122 2,108 Ecoinvent 3.6
LDPE granulate 2,305 2,286 Ecoinvent 3.6
HDPE granulate 2,110 2,092 Ecoinvent 3.6

The report is ‘Comparing the carbon footprint of carton packaging against alternative solutions‘ (navigate to page 17). According to the document, it was peer-reviewed by quality assurance company Intertek.

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