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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Its A Corrugated World

The world in a box; what doesn’t come in a box? Everything seems to have a container of sorts these days and many times it’s made of fluted paper, glued together at its corners, to become what we all know across the planet as a brown cardboard box. The utility of the ‘white plastic chair’ may be another global icon that crosses cultures the same way the cardboard box does.

As globalism continues our lives become more transient on all levels calling on cardboard boxes to deliver our furniture from D.C. to L.A. or Asian pears to the supermarkets of Fargo, North Dakota. I’ve heard numbers upward of 80% of all of our consumables being packaged in cardboard boxes yet most of us never really consider their origins, cultivation, delivery, production, use and recycling.

The BoxQuest Team will be making a concerted effort to educate ourselves and our moving community about the many aspects of cardboard moving boxes. We will be sharing our knowledge over the coming months as we dig in to find out all that we can about our household friend – the box.

Today's Corrugated Cardboard

Today's corrugated board usually consists of outer flat sheets (liners) of puncture resistant paper, sandwiching a central "filling" of corrugated short fibre paper (fluting medium), which resists crushing under compression and gives cushioning protection to the box's contents. The board has high end-to-end strength along the corrugated flutes, so the box is normally designed with the flutes running vertically for stacking strength. Paper made from hardwood, short fibre pulp has good compression strength and is easily mouldable with moisture and heat, but is weak in tension and tears easily. Paper made from softwoods, with their longer fibres, on the other hand, is strong in tension and resists puncturing and tearing better and is less plastic, so tends to keep its shape. It also provides a better surface for printing.

The liners and corrugated medium are glued together along the outsides of the peaks and valleys of each flute, normally using starch adhesives. The starch is derived from corn, wheat or potato. Thus the complete make-up of corrugated board is from natural, sustainable materials in plentiful supply and the board is fully recyclable and can be pulped down to make more paper for more board once it has ended its own life. It is a highly ecologically friendly material.

The corrugated case was initially developed for packaging glass and pottery containers, which are easily broken in transit. Then they enabled fruit and produce to be brought from the farm to the retailer without bruising, so improving the return to the producers and opening up hitherto unaffordable export markets. Imagine the waste when oranges, for example, were craned out of the hold of a ship, having been bulk loaded into it.

Nowadays, double and triple "sandwiches" of heavy duty board are made for industrial applications, while at the other extreme, microflute board is made for finely printed packaging or display work or presentation packs of high value contents such as spirits, perfume, jewellery etc. Almost all corrugated cases are made for folding flat for ease and economy of transport, then erected, filled and closed at the packing station.

Old corrugated cases are an excellent source of fibre for recycling. They can be compressed and baled for cost effective transport to anywhere in need of fibre for papermaking. Thus they help developing countries without much afforestation to build a paper and packaging industry locally and develop their exports to global markets.
Corrugated board is made on heavy high precision machinery lines called corrugators. Various types of "converting" machines are used in making the boxes out of the board produced from the corrugator and printing them. A box factory can be started with simple equipment and added to as the market expands and growth is affordable.

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