Corrugated cardboard is the solution to sustainable packaging

Kareen Debouis, General Delegate of Carton Ondulé de France, talks to us about the importance of corrugated packaging

The professional organisation represents more than 70% of corrugated cardboard manufacturers.

This includes 51 plants and around 8,200 employees, for a volume of 2.6 million tons and a turnover of 4 billion euros.

She explains to All4Pack why corrugated cardboard is the recyclable material par excellence.

Can you tell us about the importance of corrugated packaging in the packaging industry today ?

Paper and cardboard packaging is the leader in the world of packaging, with French production of just over 3.4 million tonnes, i.e. 29.7% of all packaging produced in France. Within this family, corrugated cardboard represents more than 71% of packaging.

It is used to produce mainly industrial and commercial packaging, which is used in all sectors of activity, with a large predominance of the food sector (60%)

How do the French Corrugated Cardboard companies work to improve their sustainable packaging practices ?

Our material is inherently sustainable: paperboard packaging is managed in a closed loop of reuse of its material: cellulose fibre. Corrugated cardboard packaging is more than 90% recycled and contains an average of 89% recycled fibre. More than 9 times the packaging produced is sorted, collected and recycled to make new packaging. This makes our material an example of circular economy management !

COF’s members are also experts in eco-design of packaging to design packaging while using as little material as possible. The average weight of corrugated board per square metre has been reduced by 15% in 25 years. They carry out more than 100,000 packaging studies each year and make their skills available to their customers through more than 450 designers. They base their work on data from decades of experience in packaging design, and take into account a range of technical, environmental and regulatory parameters specific to their customers’ needs. A whole chain of players then gets involved in order to implement a tailor-made solution anchored in the circular economy.

How do you see the future of corrugated packaging and how is your organisation preparing to meet future consumer and business demands ?

Corrugated cardboard, because of its high strength, lightness and ability to be recycled in all territories, is a material of the future! For many years, manufacturers have succeeded in adapting to the different demands of their customers.

They have developed ready-to-sell packaging to take into account the shelf space requirements of mass distribution, display packaging for promotional operations, e-commerce packaging, with its very specific logistical constraints and, very recently, they are offering solutions for bulk. Corrugated board is thus the solution to meet the constraints of packaging in the face of environmental requirements and to adapt to the new needs of commerce. In addition, it appeals to consumers, who consider it a virtuous material. All these qualities make it possible to meet a number of very current demands.

What solutions does COF use to replace the use of plastic in carton packaging ?

For the past 2 or 3 years, we have been facing the challenge of replacing plastic packaging, as requested by our customers. Corrugated cardboard is perfectly suited to offer solutions to those who wish to take this step. Solutions can be found in 100% cardboard packaging, by applying a varnish or by treating the corrugated cardboard with products such as paraffin. Sometimes a combination with a plastic coating is still necessary. We are working to reduce the amount of plastic used or to find new solutions that will eventually replace it completely. In any case, the industry takes its responsibilities for the products it manufactures and is committed to their return and recycling in the traditional circuit.

How does Carton Ondulé de France work with regulators and policy makers to influence regulatory choices for packaging ?

For some years now, we have been confronted with numerous regulatory texts in the packaging sector, which, although they aim to solve real problems that must not be denied, go in all directions and can ultimately be counterproductive. It is therefore necessary to work with legislators. But rather than influence, I would say that our role is to explain. It’s about demonstrating what the world of packaging is all about, because too many regulatory decisions are taken looking only through the prism of household packaging, or even only the plastic bottle, which has almost become the packaging to be shot down! However, there are many materials, more than 58% of packaging is industrial and commercial, and the wide variety of product/packaging/distribution systems often makes the issues much more complex than they seem !

Are reuse and recycling complementary ?

Recently we have been confronted with a problem for our sector: while for many years the sectors have invested in improving the recyclability of their products and the efficiency of collection and recycling systems, it seems that the legislator is increasingly choosing to favour reuse over recycling. Yet these two methods should be considered as complementary: they both make it possible to extend the useful life of a material that has been extracted from nature, one by reusing the object (reuse) and the other by reusing the constituent material of the object (recycling). And many life cycle analyses have been carried out which have shown that there is no systematically better method than the other for minimising environmental impacts. Our job today is to explain this complementarity.

How does your organisation work with stakeholders to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable packaging and encourage the adoption of better packaging practices ?

We work to raise awareness among our members when specific problems are identified with public authorities, eco-organisations or representatives of client sectors. They have to meet numerous regulatory obligations and we support them in implementing them if we are called upon. The sector also takes its responsibilities and tests the recyclability of the most complex packaging placed on the market. This is a major issue for us: recovered paper and cardboard is our main raw material, and we are particularly vigilant in the sector to ensure the security of supplies in terms of both quantity and quality. It is important not to pollute our loop.

We also participate in the 3R roadmaps of the customer sectors that request our services. Finally, Carton Ondulé de France is part of an important network of structures which associate customer sectors, eco-organisations, recuperators, consumers, NGOs, communities, etc… which regularly challenge us on their problems.

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