The Life Cycle of a Paperboard Package
Where does our paperboard packaging come from? Where does it go? It’s easy to not think about packages that we quickly discard. However, it’s important to be aware of the bigger picture, and how we can participate in the process in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Fiber is Sourced
First, paperboard is made from a natural fiber source: trees. Post-consumer waste is also used in manufacturing some board types. It is important that as we use trees for production, we replant trees to replenish the supply. This will keep our supply endless! Organizations like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative help ensure that paperboard is sourced from mills that responsibly harvest their trees. Because of this, the U.S. grows more trees than it harvests!
Paperboard is Made
The trees are processes through various mills and formed into paperboard rolls. There are variations on the types of paperboard created, as they have different uses. See our article about paperboard types explained.
Paperboard is Manufactured into Containers
The paperboard rolls are then brought to the packaging manufacturing or “converting” plant. Here, the board is cut into the right size and shape, printed, and glued to form the desired product.
Containers are Filled with Product
At some point, the package will be loaded with the intended product. This is where paths diverge. For consumer based retail packaging, the paperboard containers are shipped to the retail product manufacturer. They insert their product in the packaging then send the finished product to retail shelves. This could be products like toothpaste, eye drops, or pre-made guacamole.
For foodservice in places like restaurants, food trucks and delis, the food isn’t prepackaged, but is served directly in the paperboard packaging. Examples of this are French fries, muffins, sandwiches or fruit.
Containers are Recycled or Composted, or Decompose in Landfills
Once the packaging has served its purpose, it is discarded. The fantastic thing about using tree fiber as the source material is that it is easily recycled. Paperboard that is recycled can be used as a fiber source to make more paperboard packaging! And unlike plastic or glass, different types don’t need to be separated. Once the board’s reusability has been exhausted, it can be used as a fuel source, or compost source.
As a compost source, the board is combined with other specific, organic materials that collectively breakdown into soil fertilizer. This is very useful for growing crops.
However, if a paperboard product is too soiled by things like food grease, it is often not accepted at recycling facilities and should be disposed of in the regular trash. The upside here is that because it is made from fiber, it will still breakdown in landfills much faster than other more highly processed materials, like plastic and Styrofoam.
For more information on our commitment to sustainable packaging, go here.