Our way of operating as a society is reaching its limits. Since the industrial revolution we have been obsessed with using a seemingly infinite number of resources to make things, use things and simply throw things away. This is known as the ‘take-make-waste’ or linear economy.
A linear economy is no longer working for businesses, people or the planet. But there is another way. Transitioning to a more circular economy involves new ways to design, make and use things within our planetary boundaries.
The Circular Economy is based on three key principles;
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use
- Regenerate natural systems
Our problem with waste
We are in the midst of a growing waste crisis. According to the UK Statistics on Waste, the UK produces around 230m tonnes of waste per year, that’s about 1.1kg per person per day. That’s far more waste than it can process. So most of it gets shipped abroad. Since China closed its doors to much of the world’s waste under its National Sword Policy, much of the waste is now being sent to countries that aren’t equipped to deal with it, such as Malaysia, Indonesia or Vietnam. This results in rubbish being left or burned in open landfills, pollution and inaccurate reporting.
Globally a third of all food produced goes to landfill. Every second the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. And similar problems occur within every single industry. Recycling has traditionally been considered to be the answer to all our waste problems. But we can’t just keep re-processing our waste into shiny, new products. Recycling is more complex than this.
In the plastics industry, of the 8.3 billion tonnes of virgin plastic produced worldwide, it is estimated that only 9% has been recycled (2017 Science Advances Paper). Even when it is recycled, a lot of plastic is recycled into lower value plastic items that cannot themselves be recycled.
Is cardboard any better?
Knee jerk reactions and consumer pressure has encouraged many businesses to re-think their packaging. Where they once favoured plastic, they have quickly switched to cardboard or paper based alternatives, assuming that because cardboard is easier to recycle, it must be better for the environment. But if we’re all switching to paper-based packaging, where is all this paper going to come from?
It takes 30 years for a tree to mature enough for it to start absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. But when it finally reaches maturity it is likely to be harvested to meet our growing paper needs. According to One Tree Planted, over 46% of the world’s forests are already destroyed. And every 1.2 seconds man destroys an area of forest the size of a football field. Our forests are not only necessary for paper and wood production, trees also act as important carbon stores in the fight against climate change.
Cardboard is more commonly recycled when compared to other materials. However the process of recycling has a negative effect on the environment. It requires vast quantities of water, electricity and produces CO2. Recycling also requires a quantity of virgin pulp to be added to the mixture, which means more trees must be felled. Whilst cardboard recycling is necessary, it should only be carried out when the cardboard product has reached the end of its usable life.
How cardboard box reuse can help
To address our waste crisis we must change the way we treat packaging. Reuse is a fundamental part of the circular economy. Packaging must no longer be seen as single-use. Contrary to popular practise, cardboard boxes are not single use items. Many are strong and durable, able to withstand a number of uses before they are ready to be recycled. By keeping cardboard in use for longer, we can reduce waste and pollution and allow our natural resources time to regenerate.
If you require cardboard boxes for your business, contact us to talk about switching to reusable packaging that’s better for businesses, people and the planet.
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