Corrugated: Good and Good for You


THE WOODLANDS, Texas – The ubiquitous paper box, properly called corrugated or fiberboard, provides a renewable and socially responsible shipping container and store display for motor oil, brake and transmission fluids and greases.

Stan Lancey, chief economist with the American Forest & Paper Association in Washington, D.C., highlighted the benefits of paper packaging at the Petroleum Packaging Council spring meeting here last month.

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The overall forest products industry, including paper and wood products, accounts for 6 percent of U.S. manufacturing gross domestic product, said Lancey. With $200 billion a year in sales, it employs more than a million workers.

The industry takes great pride in its sustainable forestry practices (planting 1.7 million new trees every day), its generation of renewable energy (65 percent of the energy used to produce paper and wood products comes from waste biomass), and its sustainable practices as an industry. Most industries generate CO2 emissions, Lancey noted. We sequester.

Paper packaging has these same environmental attributes, he continued. It is renewable. We regrow trees. It is recyclable. And it is sustainable in many ways, including provision of jobs in rural areas.

The benefits of corrugated, Lancey said, exceed those of other paper products. Fully 93 percent of U.S. corrugated boxes are made by companies that participate in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Eighty-one percent of corrugated is recovered for recycling, compared to 57 percent for all paper products. The average corrugated box contains 43 percent recycled fiber.

Five times is generally the maximum number of times corrugated can be recycled. Eventually the fibers wash out as sludge, Lancey continued.

Trends in corrugated include light-weighting. Corrugated has achieved a 19 percent material-use savings from 1994 to 2005. And, Lancey said, shipping containers for lubricant products can double as merchandising packages thanks to custom design and print capabilities.

The U.S. corrugated business alone is a $24.7 billion industry with 1,300 facilities, said Lancey. Box plants tend to be close to end-use customers, as corrugated boxes are generally designed for each customer.

Corrugated has been hurt by the U.S. trade deficit, Lancey concluded. Imports, especially from China, are boxed where they are produced, but its beginning to turn around.

The trade deficit is unsustainable and contributed to the recession. The deficit must close. We have to produce more of the products we consume, and export more. So we think the outlook for U.S. corrugated is good in the longer term.

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