For the last three years out of my 35-year career in packaging, I have focused on green, eco-friendly products. This market is new and exciting; however, sustainability in packaging is not without confusion or controversy. 

Green Is in the Eye of the Beholder 
The green community has two large segments that rarely agree. One segment of the population is never pleased with any green packaging product or innovation because they believe all packaging is bad and should be outlawed. Another group within this market is eager to accept almost anything that is labeled “green.” 

Life and business would be far easier — and our inventories lower — if the world of green packaging was that simple. As I often say in presentation or writing, green is not black and white. Rather, it is shades of gray depending on the product, application and customer. 

The challenge is to effectively package with the least amount of the most eco-friendly packaging that is currently available, at the lowest possible cost. 

Focus on a Few Green Packaging Products
Writing for PARCEL is a new opportunity, and in future issues, I will address the above application and customer variables but for this initial article, and perhaps for a few more, depending on your feedback, we’ll focus on the products. 

Here are two packaging products used by almost every small and large volume parcel shipper.

Corrugated Shipping Boxes: Boxes vary greatly in their construction and relative greenness. Some manufacturers print the words “Corrugated Recycles” on the bottom of their boxes, but the truth is that all corrugated recycles. 

Others try to create a positive green image of difference where there is none by making the minimal appear to be more than it truly is. I meet packagers who proudly announce they have “greened up” their boxes and are now using a 30, 35 or 40% recycled content box. The only problem with that claim is almost all boxes are 30 to 40% recycled content. The middle layer of wavy flutes, the one the industry calls the medium, is typically made out of post-production pre-consumer waste. That is not a bad thing, but it is not as special as some would like their customers to believe. 

Be sure to understand the difference between pre-consumer/post-production waste that has never seen the light of day and post-consumer waste that encourages recycling and creates a market for what is redirected from an almost certain trip to a land fill. Generally, the higher the percentage of recycled content, the better and post-consumer waste is usually considered more sustainable than post-production waste for a number of reasons we may explore later. 

Carton sealing tape: I have been around long enough to remember when most people used WAT (water activated tape) made of paper. Plastic tape quickly became the product of choice for mostly economic and convenience reasons. Let’s face it; it was nice not having to deal with the cost or maintenance of WAT dispensers. In addition, there was not and, to date, there is not a way of automatically applying paper tape. 

Paper WAT case sealing products are back in vogue in part due to environmental reasons because it can be easily recycled and re-pulped along with the box it is adhered to. It has a much higher “eco-obvious” rating, meaning the public perceives it as being greener than plastic tape. 

WAT can also be printed in small quantities at a reasonable cost for branding purposes, compared to utilizing printed, custom boxes. The other reason for its resurgence is that it tends to perform better on varying corrugated surfaces and literally fuses with the box when properly applied, regardless of construction or content. This becomes much more critical as corrugated box makers increase their recycled content to gain a green advantage over competition.

In future issues, we will likely discuss options and outright deceptions in mailer envelopes, overlooked opportunities in internal packaging such as partitions and dividers, and even void fill products such as eco friendly packing peanuts. I may surprise many when I tell them those popular “green” peanuts are not nearly as green as some companies claim.

Dennis Salazar is president and co-founder of Salazar Packaging, Inc. and one of the most prolific writers in the area of sustainable packaging, his work appearing in numerous blogs and magazines including his own blog, Inside Sustainable Packaging. Together with his wife/partner Lenora, Dennis created the Globe Guard line of packaging products including their 100% PCW shipping boxes. They have recently made news with their newest patent pending innovation, the Globe Guard Reusable Box which is designed to turn a used box inside/out creating a like-new container. Contact him at