Cardboard; the next recycling challenge

While the Northwest has a reputation for being more eco-minded than most other regions of the country, statistics on our near-abusive usage of certain raw materials go almost unnoticed.

Take Seattle’s insatiable appetite for cardboard as an example.

While the numbers are alarming, very little is being done to broadcast or even quell our voracious burn rate through cardboard boxes.

Statistics, albeit sparse, show that even in this era of the hybrid car and endless campaigns to reduce wasted consumption, over 90 percent of the products shipped in, out of, and around Washington state (and the rest of the United States) are packaged in cardboard boxes, which requires state-sized chunks of forest resources each year to produce.

There is a widely held false perception that since it’s cardboard, it will just be recycled and used again, but cardboard and paper products take up 40 percent of our state’s landfills, and OCC (old corrugated cardboard) is one of the most commonly found items in industrial and residential waste streams.

Some claim that on a city, state and federal level, very little is being done.

The heralded exception to this is the city of San Francisco, which recently announced that its residents recycle 70 percent of their post-consumer solid waste, proudly reaching the standards of Japan and Belgium.

The rest of the United States, however, including Washington, is still at about 25 percent

There is a new breed of companies that are not only leading the charge on offering cardboard alternatives, but have found that it is more profitable, convenient and feasible to use something other than cardboard or nothing at all.

Consumer products that are being sold without a box or any frivolous packaging are standing out on store shelves and are grabbing customers’ attention.

Estimates show that the greater Seattle area uses about 1 million cardboard boxes per month just for moving. And most of these boxes will only ever be used once before they are discarded or recycled.

The eco-habits of the Puget Sound have a long way to go before we can brag about our greener choices, but the tide has turned, and our dependence on cardboard will soon go the way of asbestos insulation and the VHS recorder.

From ‘Going Green,’ The Reporter Newspaper Group, Sound Publishing Inc.