America’s Cardboard Conundrum

nixing cardboard and moving to a green shipping container

As wide-eyed kids we built forts out them and imagined ourselves fending off fire-belching dragons or pouring tea for thirsty princesses. Today the cardboard box that stirred our youthful imaginations has become a decidedly less entertaining reality for those of us consumed by the nation’s emergent recycling dilemma.

Since the 1980s, much of America’s recyclable cardboard (not to mention plastic) has been someone else’s problem. Namely, China’s.

Until recently, the country had been gobbling up nearly half of the world’s recyclables. That changed about a year ago when China announced it would accept only ultra-clean corrugated shipments with contaminant levels of 0.5 percent or less. (In the past, the country allowed contaminant levels of up to 25 percent.) Earlier this year, China took it a step further, announcing retaliatory tariffs on US goods that includes a 20 percent duty on recycled paper pulp.

Since the shakeup, municipalities across America, and especially those on the West Coast where more than 50 percent of collected recyclables have been exported overseas, have been forced to rethink their recycling ways, and they’ve had to do it posthaste.

Eco-Friendly Alternatives

So, what’s a box-happy nation with a surplus of cardboard to do? Beyond ramping up domestic carboard box recycling capabilities, the reusable shipping container represents a viable alternative to the cardboard deluge.

When compared to status quo corrugated boxes, reusable shipping boxes constructed from recyclable materials are generally smarter and stronger, plus they’re more efficient and environmentally friendly. A recent third-party reviewed, comparative Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) for Liviri Fresh proves that point.

Study goals included comparing e-delivery using the Liviri Fresh insulated shipping container with the industry standard corrugate container to assess potential environmental impacts across a level playing field. Secondly, it road-mapped the potential environmental impacts of meal-kit and e-perishable delivery using Liviri Fresh in order to find and evaluate new ways to improve upon its environmental performance in the future.

For now, and based on the LCA results, reusable Liviri Fresh is environmentally preferable to its single-use corrugate counterpart. To reach that conclusion, the shipping container was tested under the conservative assumption of 50 reuse cycles. Using the above baseline scenario, Liviri Fresh showed significantly lower potential environmental impacts than the single-use corrugated box in 8 of 9 indicators considered.

Liviri Fresh’s eco-advantages stem from the fact that raw materials and manufacturing for the container can be allocated across its 50+ uses. Here, Liviri Fresh leverages the benefits of a circular business model that keeps high-value products in use longer in order to minimize planet-harming byproducts stemming from production waste. Additionally, the thermoplastic material used for Liviri Fresh is highly recyclable (95 percent) at end-of-life.

Ditching & Switching

Businesses considering nixing cardboard and moving to a green shipping container are on the right track. But the switch needs to happen fast, especially in the grocery world where cardboard continues to represent a poor-performing, labor-intensive obstacle.

That’s because corrugated boxes are more susceptible to damage, and when a cardboard container soaks in moisture from its perishable ride-alongs it loses structural integrity. The more durable, reusable container doesn’t suffer the same soggy fate, doing a better job of protecting products. Reusable shipping containers also hold up better in cold supply chains, safeguarding perishables while keeping them fresher longer. These durable, insulated shipping containers can also be cleaned to near-new conditions, ensuring a sanitized solution for grocers and ecommerce businesses that move perishable goods.

Strength gains and waste reduction also run hand in hand when it comes to streamlining operations and growing a business’ bottom line. For example, corrugated waste requires management and muscle, which leads to added time and labor.

The reusable plastic container, on the other hand, means no cumbersome boxes to break down and no added baler requirements. When used to move product from truck to warehouse, they reduce potential for damage, while also making stocking easier and more efficient. By optimizing the supply chain, businesses can pour those cost savings back into what matters: connecting with their customers.

Endgame in Sight

Smithers Pira, a company that studies packaging, paper and print-industry supply chains, reports that e-commerce companies, globally, are using $20 billion worth of corrugated materials annually. That number, it predicts, will continue to grow over the next two years.

Faced with the growing cardboard avalanche and our nation’s snowballing recycling issues, it now makes more sense than ever to consider switching shipping materials to reusable alternatives. Liviri Fresh makes shifting gears both headache-free and cost-effective. And businesses that adopt will benefit by leading a paradigm shift that, as an added bonus, helps alleviate some of our corrugate recycling headaches.