Beyond the Box- Unpacking the myths


In a year when we’ve addressed the importance of educating children and their families to choose cardboard and be more environmentally conscious, it is only fair that we also address one of the most common misconceptions around the paper packaging industry: ‘overpackaging’.

Criticisms about overpackaging tend to pop online whenever an oversized delivery box is dropped off, or when the void fill packaging we often find inside them is theatrically displayed on social media. While these criticisms may seem justified, it’s important that we don’t jump to conclusions, as it’s essential we peel back the layers of these claims and examine their validity.


One of the most prevalent arguments made by the paper industry’s detractors is that the excessive production of paper is squandering Earth’s natural resources. While the assumption that we lose hundreds of trees daily due to overpackaging is easy to make, what this view fails to do is take into account the sustainable practices employed in the paper industry.

The paper sector in the UK is deeply committed to using responsibly sourced materials. Most of the paper and cardboard products are made from recycled materials or sourced from sustainably managed forests. Sustainable sourcing means that saplings are planted to replace the trees that are harvested, allowing forests to continue to grow despite being used as a source for producing paper.

If we’re focusing on individual trees, it’s worth noting the paper industry primarily uses parts of trees that are offcuts or waste from other industries, or trees specifically grown for paper production. This practice does not contribute to deforestation. In fact, sustainably managed forests contribute to the overall growth of trees, as they are replanted and replenished.

These forests are not only renewable but are also expanding in Europe, ensuring a continuous supply without depleting natural resources. As already reported in one of our previous blog posts, European forests grew by an area bigger than Switzerland between 2005 and 2020, roughly the equivalent to over 1,500 football pitches every day.


Oftentimes the debate around the environmental impact of packaging materials ends up becoming a stand-off between paper and plastic. This debate is far from straightforward and involves a complex interplay of factors.

While plastic is lauded for its lightweight and durability, it poses significant challenges in terms of recycling and biodegradability, not to mention the use of limited fossil fuels. On the other hand, paper and cardboard present a different set of environmental benefits and challenges. To truly understand the environmental implications of these materials, we need to look beyond the surface and examine their entire lifecycle, from production to disposal.

For example, there has been a move towards ‘re-use at any cost’, but this has significant drawbacks. In fact, the focus of the argument should be less on reusability, and more on the lifecycle impact of packaging materials. Cardboard, being biodegradable and recyclable, has a significantly lower environmental impact compared to plastic, which can take hundreds of years to decompose and is a major pollutant.


The view that paper and cardboard result in unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions is another area of contention, one that’s exacerbated further when overpackaging concerns get thrown into the mix. While it’s true that all manufacturing processes emit some level of greenhouse gases, the paper industry has been a frontrunner in reducing its carbon footprint (between 1990 and 2019, emissions of fossil CO2 from UK paper mills fell from 6.6 million to 1.8 million tonnes – a decrease of 72%).

In fact, one of the most compelling advancements in the paper industry is the transformation of modern mills into models of energy efficiency. These facilities have undergone significant upgrades to reduce their energy consumption, maximising efficiency in every step of the production process. By incorporating state-of-the-art technologies, mills can now do more with less, therefore reducing their carbon footprint.

Many mills have also transitioned to using renewable energy sources. This shift is crucial, as it means a substantial portion of the energy used in the production of paper and cardboard comes from sources like biomass, hydro, wind, or solar power. These renewable sources are not only cleaner but also allow us to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.


The criticisms of the paper and cardboard industry regarding overpackaging often lack a holistic understanding of the industry’s practices and its commitment to sustainability. This narrative can sometimes overshadow the significant strides made towards environmental responsibility.

It’s essential to base our opinions and decisions on informed facts and comprehensive environmental assessments. Consumers have the power to influence change and demand sustainable practices, but their actions need to be grounded in facts, not misconceptions. A degree of scrutiny will always be essential for improving packaging solutions, but it’s equally important to recognise and support the sustainable practices that are already in place.

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