How much carbon dioxide is released from using cardboard and plastic in packaging?

Columnist Kirsty-Jo Muddiman explores how damaging cardboard packaging is to the environment.

Monday, 17th February 2020, 12:46 pm

Global warming is considered to be the chief threat to the planet and a key contributing factor to global warming is carbon emission.

Some carbon emissions are easier to reduce than others, some are within our immediate control and some aren’t.

Reducing consumerism reduces carbon emissions without a doubt.

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A selection of cardboard.
A selection of cardboard.

If we buy less, less is produced and less carbon is emitted but some purchases are unavoidable and we all need to replace our washing machine, printer cartridge or school uniform at some stage.

Receiving a package from an online store can be shocking in terms of packaging.

Multiple plastic layers, paper or bubble wrap packing and often an oversized box.

We know that we can’t recycle our way out of climate change because recycling emits carbon too, so we need industry to seriously rethink how it gets its products to us.

It’s not just online stores.

Products in real shops may look less packaged but if you’ve ever worked in retail or peeked around the back of the store, you’ll see almost as much packaging was used as your online order.

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Cardboard emits around three kg of carbon dioxide for every kilogram produced, about the same as burning one kg of oil.

If it goes to landfill it’s likely to emit methane which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Plastic production emits around six kg carbon dioxide per kg but the plastic we need to package is often lighter than the cardboard equivalent.

Cardboard does biodegrade and plastic is extremely persistent in the environment.

Neither product is the single-use answer.

I talked to a fishmonger from Doncaster Market who told me he had trialed a reusable plastic container that kept fish chilled (they never got returned).

He had the right idea though.

He had hopes of customers returning them for reuse but sadly it didn’t work out and they were too expensive to keep replacing.

Through mutual trust between industry and customer a truly reusable packing system can be developed.