Which Packaging is more Environmentally Friendly, Polythene or Cardboard?

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Which Packaging is more Environmentally Friendly, Polythene or Cardboard?

Which Packaging is more Environmentally Friendly, Polythene or Cardboard

Polythene Bags vs Cardboard Boxes

When considering the question which Packaging is more Environmentally friendly, Polythene or Cardboard it is first important to note that all packaging, plastic or cardboard, bag or box, has an environmental impact and to believe that there is a ‘silver bullet’ packaging material currently available that will solve this dilemma is wrong. It is a fact that the use of either material is not the issue, it is the disposal of the used packaging that constitute the problem. Decisions that are made in the name of the environment must be based upon facts, not emotions or misconception and the facts are as follows:


  • Made from crude oil by-product that is a non-renewable source (exceptions being Green PE and PLA)
  • Has limited kerbside recycling facilities (only 19% [75] of local authorities collect plastic film)
  • Single use bags end life in landfill and create litter
  • Does not degrade with a shelf life of 400+ years
  • Are a threat to wildlife either as a bag or in the subsequent degradation into micro pellets
  • Creates greenhouse gas in its production
  • However when compared to Paper/Cardboard production there are a number of interesting points which make uncomfortable reading from an environmental standpoint.


  • Currently paper manufacturing produces 60% more greenhouse gasses
  • Paper production use 4 times as much energy to produce
  • Water usage is 3 times as much
  • Creates 50% more water pollutants
  • Transport costs and the associated pollutants this results in are more than 20 times higher.
  • 1000 paper bags = 64 kg whilst 1000 similar Polythene bag weigh 3.5 kg.
  • Recycling paper based products takes twice as much energy than plastics

The arguments about which packaging is more environmentally friendly, polythene or cardboard will continue to rage, however the main problem still is not in the use of any packaging material but our methods of disposal. The main argument on cardboard’s behalf is that is biodegradable and does not pose a threat to wildlife. However it does harm in its initial manufacture and recycling. Plastics can all be recycled whether by re-use, reclaiming or, if necessary, recovering of the energy inherent in the material by incineration. As with any other material, the message must be to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle as much as possible.

As can be seen from the customer experience with Amazon, the amount of over packaging in cardboard is seen as wasteful and this is driven by the limits as to how many box sizes can be held at the packers location. The cost of switching all packaging to cardboard from polythene bags can add considerable cost to a companies operations and still not be the environmentally friendly option that is being striven for.

ATL Dunbar are a long established supplier of packaging solutions including pallet wrap, mailing bags and cardboard packaging. We have expertise in selecting and designing solution to meet clients individual requirements. Please e-mail us or call us on +44 (0)161 797 6372 if you would like any advice or information on your packaging requirements.

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