Moving, shopping, storage: cartons are practical, functional, multifunctional and essential in everyday life. In almost every industry they are used as packaging material for all kinds of products. The “Association of Paper Factories” concluded that in 2017, 22.7 million tons of paper, cardboard, and paperboard were produced in Germany alone. Worldwide, the numbers for the demand for paper and cardboard are significantly higher. According to the global study “World Paper Markets up to 2030” by “Pyöry Management Consulting”, the demand should even increase to a total of 482 million tons until 2030. But where do cartons come from? What materials are they made of? And what happens to them when they are no longer in use? I would like to answer all these questions in this article.
Did you know that both paper and cardboard of all types are mainly made of cellulose fibers? Cellulose is a substance formed by plants and the main component of plant cell walls. 90% of the wood that the European Union needs to produce cardboard now comes from the EU itself. According to the “Confederation of European Paper Industries” (CEPI) even up to 60% comes from sustainably managed forests. For the production of paper and cardboard, the industry not only uses fresh fibers from trees but also, and above all, uses recovered fibers from recycled paper products. Besides the organization reports that the whole European Union already uses 86% renewable raw materials for the production of cardboard. In detail, this means that 46% consists of recycled paper products and only 40% of fresh groundwood pulp is used. The other 14% is made up of non-fiber materials such as calcium carbonate.
At the same time, the amount of work it takes to produce this everyday object should not be underestimated: Cartons usually consist of at least three layers. After the cellulose has been broken down into its fibers, the first step is to grind it into an aqueous pulp. This is also done similarily with waste paper, which is also shredded after cleaning. The mixture of water, cell fibers and additives is decolorized and then runs over and over again through a screen in a board machine, where, over time, the first paper webs are finally produced. These are couched, which means that the webs are pressed together without adhesive to create the typical cardboard layers.
After several drying processes, lime, fillers and binders are added before the webs are finally smoothed. In the final step, they are cut up and are ready for a variety of applications and uses, such as in industry and trade – and especially here the consumption is enormous: According to the “Saarbrücker Zeitung”, based on government information, around 769,000 tons of packaging material was used in Germany in 2015. For comparison: just ten years ago, the total amount was only 120,000 tons. One of the reasons for the increase is online trading, which is still booming.
Did you know that 83% of paper and cardboard packaging in Europe is already recycled? This number was published by the Federal Statistical Office of the European Union (ESTAT) in 2015. 10% ends up in landfills, while 7% is collected for other forms of disposal, such as incineration.
The packaging that is recycled is first collected in the waste paper containers. These are sorted by different types of paper in paper mills and pressed into bales. In the next step, they are dissolved with water in the so-called pulper and defibered. The resulting fiber pulp is pulled over sieves, cleaned and thickened. This removes the printer’s ink and other foreign matter from the waste paper. After other fibers, fillers and auxiliary materials are added, the pulp is taken to the production process to produce newspapers, envelopes and paper rolls. Then the cycle starts all over again. This cycle is much more environment-friendly than the production of paper. Because it requires a lot of wood, energy and water. There is also the risk of chemicals getting into the water. The use of waste paper can greatly reduce environmental pollution.
As you can see, waste paper is a real an everyday hero and protects not only your goods but also the environment. But only if it is also correctly recycled. You can help to achieve this with a baler in your warehouse. Because that way the loose cardboard packaging is already pressed into bales at your warehouse. This makes it easier and more space-saving to remove. Fewer truck journeys are required and the risk of loose packaging ending up in the environment and not being recycled is reduced.
Strautmann Umwelttechnik GmbH