Eco Friendly Corrugated Boxes - “100% PCW” is Not 100% Bad or 100% Good

Eco Friendly Corrugated Boxes - “100% PCW” is Not 100% Bad or 100% Good

In the last week I've spoken with two people, one from a very large, green company and the other from a very small, green company. Both had very strong opinions about 100% post consumer waste (PCW) content corrugated boxes.

“I must have 100% PCW or as close to 100% as possible,” one said. The other said, “I recently tried 100% PCW but it failed miserably.” Both comments demonstrated a basic misunderstanding about corrugated, how it is made and how even 100% PCW it can be modified to satisfy almost any application.

I sincerely believe that the “100% PCW” requirement has in many cases become at best an ineffective guideline, and at worst a crutch for people who want to make a difficult decision, as simple as possible. Corrugated made of PCW material is an excellent sustainable packaging solution and a critical part of a long term environmental solution, but it has to be combined with some basic product knowledge to be cost effective as well as performance effective.

Corrugated Fun Facts. OK, not fun but good to know

For over a hundred years, almost since it was first used to line and support men's tall hats, corrugated board has been made virtually the same way. A sheet of corrugated board is made up of three approximately equal (by weight) components, two face liner board sheets and the medium (the fluted layer) in between the inner and outer sheets.

If you make one of those three components 100% PCW, your board is approximately 33% PCW, two PCW components would result in 66% PCW, etc. Once you go below 100% PCW content on any of the components, the recycled content gets fairly “gray” but if someone is claiming 90% PCW, that is not only unlikely, it is virtually impossible. Since there is no accurate scientific way after production to verify the recycled content percentage or type (PCW or post production) of each component, a vendor is fairly free to claim almost any PCW percentage they care to.

If you are having performance issues with 100% PCW you have a few possible solutions.

* First and foremost, are you using the correct weight for your application? The industry and our Globe Guard standard for our stock boxes is 32 ECT but we have made boxes up to 48ECT, double wall construction. Don't blame the recycled content for a misapplication of corrugated board weight.

* You can increase the thickness of each or any corrugated component depending on the problem you are having. Keep in mind most of the puncture strength comes from the inner and outer liner sheets and most of the stacking strength comes from the fluted medium. This is probably not a good option you only need 200 boxes but if you are buying volume, corrugated board and boxes can be constructed to your exact specs, to satisfy your exact requirements.

* Depending on the type of application and problem you are experiencing, a possible solution is a mix of PCW and post production waste. It typically results in a slightly stronger sheet if your application really demands it, and you are still using 100% recycled corrugated even if it is not all PCW.

* Consider improving your interior packaging. As a good friend likes to say “think inside the box” because many times, the box is being blamed for failure of the void fill, partitions or dividers inside it. In many cases, increasing the box or board weight is a knee jerk reaction and not the result of an appropriate or in depth application and performance analysis.

Sustainable Packaging Credibility

Who can you trust when there's a performance problem with corrugated? Let's face it - for most corrugated sales people, the solution they recommend to their customers is directly related to the product line they have to offer. After all, there is not a lot of satisfaction or for that matter, income, generated when steering a customer to a competitor's product. There is a marvelous scene in the classic Christmas movie “Miracle on 34th Street” when the Santa at Macy's begins referring customers to other, competitive stores. The idea makes for great Hollywood fiction but I have yet to see a packaging salesperson do it without losing their job.

As I usually suggest to customers, don't believe what a packaging salesperson says, but you may however be able to trust what their company is willing to put in writing whether it is in a proposal, brochure or even on their web site. After all, even the shadiest company will hesitate to document the misinformation they disseminate.

Is 100% PCW perfect? No, but it is darn good if you know what you are doing and I guess I just put that in writing, didn't I?

Dennis Salazar is the president of Salazar Packaging Inc. This article originally appeared on his blog, "Inside Sustainable Packaging."

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