Why is corrugated cardboard the best packaging material? The Iroquois had a saying: “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation…even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.” This was called the Great Law of the Iroquois, and it’s something often adopted today to discuss sustainability.
Essentially, we need to ask ourselves if what we’re doing today will be sustainable seven generations down the line.
So today, we will look at the effect of different packaging materials on the environment.
Today, the United States throws away about 250 million tons of trash. This is an insanely large amount of material that needs attention, but first let’s focus on one specific type of trash—packaging waste. People are often surprised to hear that 30% (or 76 million tons) of all garbage in the U.S comes from packaging. But when you stop to think about what you throw away in a given day, it’s not too surprising.
Of that 76 million tons, 51 percent is paper and paperboard, while 19 percent is plastic.
What’s more: 75 percent of the paper is recycled, while only 15 percent of plastic is recycled.
This means that 12.3 million tons of plastic ends up in U.S. landfills annually, while only 9.7 million tons of paper does.
But this problem goes one level deeper; paper will naturally decompose in a couple of months. Plastic will take 450 years or more.
An Ancient Problem
This means that nearly all plastic that has ever been produced is still in existence today. There aren’t currently any enzymes that can decompose plastic. More than 360 million years ago trees caused this same problem. In the Carboniferous period, trees were indigestible for any bacteria or animal. Trees would just die and pile up on the forest floor, while the abundance of trees created excessive amounts of oxygen in the air. By the way, this abundance of oxygen is why insects and other animals used to be so large.
Due to the large number of dead trees on the ground, and a huge amount of oxygen in the air, the perfect conditions were created for forest fires unlike anything we’ve ever seen in modern times. This is where most of our coal comes from.
It was a full 50 million years before fungi evolved to start decomposing trees. Back then, trees were the ultimate polluters of their time.
Today, plastics are piling up in much the same way. The sun will break down plastic into smaller particles, but this causes its own problems. There’s currently an area in the Pacific Ocean the size of Turkey that is so polluted, it’s been dubbed The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
So Now What?
There are hopeful signs in our future, such as a recently discovered bacteria that can digest plastic. But what are we doing right now?
In order to follow the seventh-generation stewardship, we are taking action to reduce the amount of plastics used in our packaging today. The best course of action is to use as little plastic as possible in your packaging. If you take another look at the image at the top of this post, you might notice that most of the garbage in the water is plastic-based—corrugated cardboard just decomposes too fast. By using Packsize’s On Demand Packaging®, companies use the best packaging material. Corrugated cardboard is more sustainable, cheaper to use, and can provide quality protection.
If you’d like to learn more about how to optimize your packaging, contact us today by filling out the form below. We can offer you a full packaging consultation, absolutely free.
 All the numbers from this section come from this 2014 EPA report: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-11/documents/2014_smmfactsheet_508.pdf
 For more reading on the era when trees were polluters can be found in this National Geographic article: http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/07/the-fantastically-strange-origin-of-most-coal-on-earth/
 Images and further reading on trash in the ocean can be found here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150109-oceans-plastic-sea-trash-science-marine-debris/ and here: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/06/140613-ocean-trash-garbage-patch-plastic-science-kerry-marine-debris/