Choose Paperboard Packaging and Breathe Easy

Renew your packages with paperboard content.

Tony Petrelli, President and COO, CardPak Inc. (Solon, OH)


Tony Petrelli

To my company, the issue of sustainability and environmental stewardship is nothing new. As the newly elected chairman of the Paperboard Packaging Council (PPC), I am getting deeply involved in sustainability issues that impact the entire paperboard industry.

I hear a lot of environmental claims coming from manufacturers and suppliers of competing materials and applications. Some of the claims sound good, but lack the data to support those claims when compared with paperboard.

Paperboard packaging can make a statement that no one can refute and no other kind of packaging product can match. Of all of the claims, benefits, and seven Rs that are being discussed, there is only one R that is unique to paperboard packaging. It stands for renew. Renewability does not get discussed as often or as thoroughly as, say, recyclability does because few packaging materials can believably boast of being renewable.

But there is no doubt that fiber-based packaging, including paperboard folding cartons, comes from an infinitely renewable source: trees. That fact ought to be at top of mind when making packaging decisions. Not only are trees renewable, but as long as they live they absorb the most prevalent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. They need it. They are sponges for it. And while absorbing CO2, trees release oxygen. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “One acre of trees absorbs 6 tons of carbon dioxide and puts out 4 tons of oxygen.”

I have heard arguments from outside and inside the packaging community that consumers will never warm to the idea of cutting down trees, for any reason. We aim to prove that using trees to make packaging is a positive step in combating climate change.

Without getting too technical, the amount of CO2 absorbed by a tree depends on the type and the age of the tree. Fast-growing softwood trees absorb more CO2 than hardwoods. Young trees absorb more CO2 than old trees. So what type of trees are used to make paperboard packaging? Young softwoods. They are planted, harvested, and replaced like the vegetables you buy in the market. National forests, rain forest trees, and endangered species do not come into play.

At present, paperboard cartons and other fiber-based containers are the only types that can make the claim of coming entirely from a renewable feedstock. This unquestionable uniqueness is something PPC plans to promote in the months leading up to our National Paperboard Packaging Week, which begins next April 20. This event coincides with Earth Day and, just as important, National Arbor Day. In preparation, PPC will produce a Web-based how-to kit for our members and their customers to use in assembling and disseminating the strongest overall environmental statement for paperboard. We will also create messages aimed at mass-media outlets.

Simply put, the more trees that are used in making paperboard packaging, the more trees that will be planted and the more CO2 that will be soaked up. That is newsworthy, is it not?

We will go beyond renewability. There is much to be said about recycling. The majority of the paperboard packaging that is recycled goes back into paperboard packaging. The rest finds use in a variety of other valued products. There is money to be made by municipalities in including paperboard as part of their recycling programs. We are going to show them why and how. We will address the other six Rs, too, because paperboard packaging has an enviable track record.

But the story of renewability really has me excited. It even has health ramifications. What could be better than less CO2 and more oxygen?

You might say that choosing paperboard packaging on the basis of its wide-ranging sustainability advantages is something that, in this time of increased pressure to be “green,” lets us all breathe a little easier.

Tony Petrelli serves as the chairman for the Paperboard Packaging Council.

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