Cardboard is a common packaging material used in every industry as it prevents stored items from being damaged. It is also considered to be very durable making it one of the best packaging materials for businesses. Knowing what usual cardboard boxes are made of and their reusability can not only have a positive impact on your business but also the environment. It is worth noting though that cardboard recycling consumes lesser energy to be manufactured, hence increasing the chances of saving money and the environment. Now that we know what is cardboard made of and whether is cardboard biodegradable.

What Is Cardboard Made Of?

Cardboard is mainly made of paper fibers, which are obtained from wood pulp. Fibers are normally derived from recycled paper or fresh wood, which is processed and formed into a layered structure to produce the rigid, lightweight material known as cardboard.

How Is Cardboard Made?

  1. Initial Development

    The process of converting wood into pulp is called ‘Kraft’ (meaning ‘strength’ in German) or sulfate process and it was first invented by German chemist Carl F. Dahl in 1884. He treated wood chips from Pine or Silver Birch trees with a hot mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide and followed many mechanical and chemical steps thereafter to produce paper. This method is dominantly used in pulp mills today to manufacture paper. Typically, cardboard boxes have a Kraft paper outer liner and a test paper inner liner because Kraft paper is better quality than test and its smooth finish can be easily printed on. On the other hand, test paper is made of recycled material or from hardwood tree pulp which is why it is cheaper and has a more abrasive quality.

  2. Pulping

    Pulping is the process of extracting fibrous materials and cellulose from wood to produce paper. This ensures that the resulting wood chips are clean and suitable for the purpose. For this, first, the trees are cut and lumbered to tons of logs. These logs then go through a machine to be debarked and chipped. Out of the mechanical and chemical process (Kraft) of pulping the wood chips, the chemical one (Kraft) with the use of sulfide is more popular as it gives better separation and reduced lignin (a non-fibrous constituent of wood).

    This results in a better-quality paper. The mechanical process (test paper) on the other hand, is ideal if you want a low-cost solution with a higher output that is of lower quality. It involves grinding debarked logs against a revolving stone or disk grinder to break down the fibers. The stone gets sprayed with water to remove the fibers.

  3. From Pulp to Cardboard

    The first stage is the ‘beating stage’ where the pulp is pounded and squeezed by machines. Based on the intended use of the paper, filler materials like clays and chalks or sizing such as gum and starch can be added followed by the removal of excess water content in a Fourdrinier machine. The nearly made cardboard is then pressed between wool felt rollers and then passed through steam-heated cylinders to eliminate any residual water content. To get corrugated cardboard, the next process involves wounding the sheet onto a wheel. While cardboard is intended for other uses, the process ends with coating, winding, and calendaring (smoothing of the surface).

  4. Flutes

    Flutes are what make the cardboard sturdy and protective. It is a wavy piece of cardboard sandwiched between two layers. The same process that was used to add ruffles to hats and shirts in the 18th century. It is used to create cardboard flutes now! Single wall boxes have one layer of fluting whereas double wall boxes have two layers for extra strength. Depending on the thickness of the flute, we have A, B, C, E, and R-grade flutes.

Corrugated Cardboard

Corrugated boxes are meant to be more durable than traditional cardboard boxes. They are made of three layers – outside layer, inside layer, and fluting with a ruffled shape. This makes the overall packaging lightweight with a high strength-to-weight ratio. While traditional cardboard is better left for items like cards and cereal boxes, corrugated cardboard is ideal for shipping heavier and fragile products.

Is Cardboard Biodegradable?

It is 100% recyclable and biodegradable. Corrugated board decomposes completely within a maximum of one year. Since it is essentially cellulose, its decay time is short and, when exposed to favourable weather conditions, that is, in a humid environment, this degradation accelerates even more.

Cardboard recycling is possible when the cardboard is not contaminated with oil, food, or water. Small businesses can reduce their waste using a baler to recycle cardboard, paper, bottles, and even aluminum/tin cans. Cardboard is also biodegradable because it is made of natural materials ideal for composting. It can be broken down into its natural elements without leaving any harmful toxins. If the cardboard is unbleached, then even better.

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The nutrients from the compost can be used to boost the growth of plants in farms and gardens. Also, composting is a better option than recycling in the case of soiled cardboard boxes such as those used in pizza boxes, egg cartons, paper towels, etc. With cardboard used so enormously for packaging in every industry, it is important to learn about its impact on the environment.

Fortunately, paper and cardboard recycling benefits the environment by reducing deforestation and energy utilization. Moreover, corrugated cardboard can biodegrade completely within a year. By reducing, reusing, and recycling; businesses can avoid unnecessary consumption of cardboard and also save tons of money, thus, taking a smart step towards sustainability.

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  1. What Are Cardboard Boxes Made Of?

    Cardboard boxes are primarily made of paperboard, which is a thick, heavy-duty paper.

  2. Is Cardboard Eco-Friendly?

    Because it is made from the renewable basic material wood, cardboard is one of the most environmentally friendly packing materials. This makes it especially eco-friendly in terms of manufacture, extraction, use, and disposal.

  3. Is Cardboard Good For The Environment?

    Firstly, it is highly recyclable, with most cardboard boxes and packaging made from recycled paper, reducing the demand for virgin materials and decreasing landfill waste. Secondly, cardboard is derived from renewable and responsibly managed forests or recycled paper, making it a sustainable packaging option. Thirdly, cardboard is biodegradable, meaning it can naturally break down over time without causing harm to the environment. Lastly, the production of cardboard requires less energy compared to other materials like plastic or metal, making it an energy-efficient choice.

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