Comparison cardboard to returnables: where is the profit?

Cardboard is a very common means of industrial packaging. Still, it has inherent properties that make it less suitable as a protective, safe, ergonomic, lean and, not least, profitable solution.


Compared one on one, the price of a single cardboard box is a lot cheaper than that of a smart material handling unit. But one should take in account the total price of processing the cardboard box along the supply and waste management chain over the lifetime of the product purchased.

The pulp out of which cardboard is made is subject to high price fluctuations. During the last couple of years, the pulp price as increased almost permanently. When the margins for cardboard pulp are eaten away by inflation, the relationship with your supplier comes under pressure. Returnable material handling units, on the contrary, offer price certainty for the lifetime of the project, often several years. Hence, margin certainty of the end product as packaging is included in most cases.

Once the box is emptied, the tape has to be removed and the box folded. A compactor presses (renting or buying such a device cost also money) the end-of-use boxes before they are put in a container – occupying valuable space on the factory terrain – and taken away. All this takes time and/or energy, both of which don’t come for free. In the end, it’s still unsure whether the debris cardboard will yield any money. Depending on the market price it may well happen that you have to pay to get rid of it.

Safeguarding quality

Cardboard manufacturers deal with different pulp suppliers which makes it impossible to guarantee the same quality over a long period.

Due to its fibrous structure, cardboard has an abrasive effect. Scratch-sensitive parts can get damaged, unless the cardboard is coated or the products are packed individually to avoid direct contact with the cardboard fibers. Unfortunately, once coated, the cardboard is no longer fit for recycling, since it became water resistant. After use, coated cardboard adds a waste disposal cost to your bill and is unsustainable. Also, the acquisition cost for coated cardboard is higher than for regular cardboard.

Sustainability and recycling

Recycling cardboard often involves chloride for bleaching, which is harmful to the environment. Besides, the cardboard fiber is not endlessly recyclable. New virgin material will be needed.

Safety and ergonomics

The stackability of cardboard, both in trucks and warehouses, is rather shady, unless special reinforcements inside the box are used that occupy space and make the packaging more expensive. Piling up boxes, especially large ones, can be unreliable, thus endangering operators handling the boxes or passers-by.

That’s not all. Here is more you might be interested in.

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