In the May issue of PARCEL, I wrote about corrugated boxes and the different types and varying percentage of recycled content they may contain. I made two statements that are worth repeating:
• The greater the percentage of recycled content, the better
• Post-consumer waste is generally better and greener compared to industrial (post production) waste.

Where Corrugated Board Comes from vs. Where it Winds Up
Today, there is a great deal of emphasis on where pulp comes from and luckily, we can now trace the origin of wood pulp back to a specific forest or tree. FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification is great but at a time when we annually plant more trees than we cut down, I am personally more concerned with where it winds up.

Utilizing pulp that has already been harvested and processed not only saves trees, it also minimizes electricity/energy, transportation costs and water. I am convinced in the near future, water conservation will be critical and utilizing recycled corrugated board may no longer be optional, based alone on water usage and savings. However, today I believe most people will agree that using recycled board and pulp is a good thing and the greater amount and percentage that is used, the greater the environmental benefit. 

In every corrugated manufacturing facility or sheet plant that prints or converts board into boxes, trays or even smaller sheets, there is waste. It may be a result of set up, bad print, trim or simply overruns and mistakes. This waste has value so every facility I know of recycles it so it can be re-pulped to create new board. Usually, it becomes the medium, which is the inner liner with wavy flutes.

This type of waste is also called “pre-consumer” waste because it has not seen the light of day or ever reached a consumer as finished product. It is essentially manufacturing scrap that can be recycled and reused.

Unlike industrial recycled content, post-consumer recycled content is board manufactured from waste that has met the consumer. It is usually referred to as PCW (post consumer waste) or PCR (post consumer recycled) waste. Much of it is made from what the industry refers to as OCC, or old corrugated containers. In other words, they are old shipping boxes that you see baled in the back of every big box retail store, for recycling purposes. 

Corrugated with post consumer waste could also include old newspapers, paperboard cartons, magazines or virtually any form of discarded and recycled paper product. It’s encouraging to think that the box used to ship your order from your favorite e-commerce site could contain the cereal box you emptied and discarded last week and the newspaper you read while enjoying that breakfast. 

Creating a Market for Paper Waste

Aside from the obvious benefits of using post-consumer waste wherever possible, there is also a tremendous and broader benefit in creating a viable and profitable market for paper waste. 

When you see people scavenging for empty aluminum cans or, in some states, glass bottles, it is usually not driven by eco concerns. It is happening because the waste being collected and recycled has value. So it stands to reason that if there was more demand for paper waste, the value would rise and more people and companies would collect and recycle it.

“Recycling” is the most popular of the three Rs of sustainability and probably the easiest one to accomplish. We all encourage our children, co-workers and neighbors to recycle as much as possible but doesn’t this also mean we have to create use for the waste we are encouraging and in some cases mandating everyone to recycle?

It would be great if the largest packagers and shippers of products were required to use a predetermined minimum amount of recycled waste in the packaging they utilize. After all, if they help to create the waste and encourage people to recycle it, isn’t there also an obligation to utilize it? 

Guidelines for Purchasing and Use of Paper Based Shipping Products

There are very few hard and fast rules in the area of sustainable packaging, but the following will hold true the vast majority of the time. 

• Make sure any paper based product you buy contains at least some percentage of recycled content, ideally as close to 100% as possible.

• If possible, insist on at least 50% of that content to be PCW or PCR waste. Again, 100% is the goal.

• Ask specifics about the product you are buying. Some manufacturers and sellers of paper products try to avoid providing details but it is your right, if not your responsibility, to ask the questions. end box here

It is also good to remember that these guidelines do not only apply to shipping boxes and they should be considered for any paper product you purchase including packaging wrapping and void fill papers, folding cartons, labels, mailers and even envelopes.

In the next issue we are going to take closer look at the hottest trend in sustainable packaging which is reusable shipping containers. You may have more options than you think. 

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. Contact him at