After the holidays, where do all those brown boxes go?

December 10, 2019

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Drive down most any street this time of year, and you’ll probably notice some hallmarks of the holiday season. Lights adorning eaves and lining driveways. Wreaths hung with care on front doors. Trimmed trees shining through living room windows.

And corrugated boxes piled high on doorsteps.

As people continue to do more of their holiday shopping online, it’s a sight that’s becoming increasingly more common. In fact, according to Salesforce, e-commerce is anticipated to grow 13% this season.

But as more and more people skip the holiday lines in favor of online shopping, the demand for quality corrugated boxes that safely get products from retailers to residences also continues to grow.

The good news is, much like the art of regifting, industry today is focused on giving these used boxes a new life. And one of the ways papermaker Georgia-Pacific — a subsidiary of Koch Industries — is rising to meet the growing need for new boxes is by recycling old ones. 

“Recycling has long been an important part of our paper-making process,” says Marc Forman, president of Georgia-Pacific Recycling. “As a paper-based packaging producer, we not only are committed to responsible use of our resources, but also count on recycled fiber as an important part of our fiber supply.”

Recycling resources

Every year, Georgia-Pacific collects approximately 6 million tons of recovered paper products, or about 300,000 truckloads, from large retailers, grocery stores and distribution warehouses for recycling.

In 2018, about 2.65 million tons of this paper consisted of old corrugated containers, or OCC as it’s known in the industry. And roughly 1.25 million tons of this corrugate was then turned into new paper for boxes at Georgia-Pacific mills.

If that sounds like a lot of boxes, it is. To put it into perspective, Georgia-Pacific facilities recycle so many corrugated boxes that if you were to pile them all up, every two days they would fill a basketball arena from floor to ceiling.

It’s all in line with where the industry is heading. For eight years, the recovery rate for corrugated containers had regularly hovered around 90%, but that number jumped to more than 96% in 2018, per the American Forest and Paper Association.

“Even with a reliable supply of recycled fiber, we take to heart our commitment to use our resources responsibly,” said Brian Reilly, vice president of research and technology at the Georgia-Pacific Innovation Institute®. “That’s why we also focus on doing more with less … engineering packaging that meets our customers’ needs without using more fiber than necessary.”  

Engineering for better

If the notion of a paper company actively working to use less of the very same shipping material it produces seems counter-intuitive, it’s actually the goal of the Innovation Institute — to produce lighter, stronger boxes more efficiently, using fewer resources.

Here, scientists are working to develop better boxes for some of the world’s biggest retailers. The objective is to create shipping solutions that provide an optimum level of protection for precious cargo that can endure all kinds of conditions, while keeping box size and wasted space to a minimum.

This doesn’t just help keep shipping costs and fuel consumption down as packages make their way to you — it ensures holiday gifts, like televisions, laptops and toys for the kids, arrive at their final destinations intact and ready to be wrapped.

There’s a lot of engineering that goes into every brown box, at every stage. But at the end of the day, it’s this engineering that makes all the difference between a damaged delivery and a happy holiday.

Learn more about what Georgia-Pacific is doing with these boxes to create a better, more sustainable future.