Jul 7, 2022 1:03:47 PM | 9 Min Read

The Truth About a Circular Economy

Posted By Bay Cities
The Truth About a Circular Economy

“We are coming for you; we want our boxes back!” – Greg Tucker

If no one is going to keep it real about the industry, at least you know I will. There are a tremendous number of facts available that talk about a circular economy, or the model of production and consumption involving reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. But those are just a bunch of regurgitated word tracks focused on search engine optimization (SEO) for the sole purpose of increasing a company’s online visibility as it relates to its target market. On the other hand, you could receive some firsthand information from a well-known professional in the manufacturing industry, sometimes known as the #BoxMaster, aka, me.

There’s this controversial idea that “only beliefs can change behaviors,” but if we study that statement, we realize how many different leaders in various sectors of humanity of changed human behaviors by convincing someone that their beliefs are THE socially acceptable ones, just so they can feel good about themselves. Let’s start with the truth about America’s belief regarding recycling according to the 2022 American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA) and Shelton Communications studies.

  • 95% of Americans think recycling is good, it makes them feel good
  • 52% believe cardboard is recyclable
  • 67% think corporations should be responsible for recycling
  • 54% of adults will pay more for products made of environmentally friendly products
  • 35% of online shoppers watch unboxing videos (had to throw this in for laughs)
  • 51% believe recycling in the U.S. is working
  • 85% say recycling is the minimum we can do for the environment
  • 90% feel the biggest issue is plastics are contaminating our oceans and care more about this than climate change
  • 42% want to be seen as an environmentally friendly buyer
  • 26% can name a product or brand they’ve purchased – or not because of the environmental or social record of the manufacturer

Americans’ thoughts on environmental solutions ranking show that our #1 priority is recycling, followed by product manufacturing in the U.S., making recyclable products, and lastly, removing chemicals of concern from products. Right now, there are close to 9000 active recycling programs in the U.S. dedicated to continuing the circular economy, with plastics seen as the easiest material to recycle into a new product (39%) – runner ups include aluminum (18%), paper (15%), cardboard (12%), glass (9%), steel (2%), wood (2%), and batteries or electronics (2%). And when it comes to the most eco-friendly packaging material, paper comes in at #1 at 32%, while cardboard is near the bottom of the list at 11%. What’s most interesting about the above statistic is that overall, only 9% of plastic ends up being recycled, while 92% of cardboard (or corrugate) is recycled – (honorable mention is 63% of paper, is recycled).

Now we can focus on consumer behavior, which has drastically changed since 2020. We know Covid changed the way Americans shopped –we sat home on our couches and spent billions of dollars online instead of going to the store. Amazon, already a major leader in retail, skyrocketed to new heights that had everyone feeding into the need to experience something, anything at all, while we were stuck at home. We purchased things online mainly so that we could have something to look forward to as the lockdown was extended and then extended again, and again. So, we went from sending 12 or 48 items in a master carton to a retail store to sending one unit in a carton to a consumer’s home. We built millions and millions of more boxes to suffice this new online or “Amazon” phenomenon. This shift in buying behaviors changed the dynamic and use of packaging and mostly the circular system we in the corrugated box business have built over decades.

MicrosoftTeams-image (60)

Many may recall that we used to go to the back of a grocery store to get the boxes when we needed to move or store stuff. The box industry built a cradle-to-cradle circular recycling system built upon picking up those boxes once left outside of the retailer into the MOST recycled system in America or in the world for the most part. Our industry built recycled paper mills decades ago to reuse old, corrugated containers (OCC) and make new boxes out of them. Remember the basis of the furnishing for these recycled paper mills was the retail environment. But now Americans are buying billions of dollars online and many of those boxes needed for our industry’s replenishment are now going to consumers’ homes. We are no longer getting that balanced amount from the retail environment as we did back in 2018. And a good amount of our fiber recovery is now going to individual homes, which is a vital resource needed for the recycled, recovered, and replenished packaging solution. Where we once were replenished freely with brown boxes, we’re not counting on individual consumers to do so, which has apparently become a big ask as of late.

Remember, the biggest thing Americans think about is first, the effect of plastic in our oceans more than even global warming. Americans are gung-ho about recycling and living as much of a sustainable life as they can. They make buying decisions regarding the recycled characteristics of the package and the product inside. Their number one top concern is recycling, but at the end of the day, we’re seeing that not all Americans are practicing what they’re preaching.

Studies conducted by Waste Management and their partnership with the AF&PA show that only 40% of the corrugated boxes shipped to our homes in America are getting recycled. This is essentially hampering our ability to produce new boxes from old boxes because we are not prioritizing breaking down these boxes and putting them in a recycling bin to further our sustainability desires. And if this unpopular trend continues, we will probably follow in the footsteps of Europe and begin to tax citizens for the recycling responsibility from our government, the industry will be taxed unfairly via EPR laws (Extended Producer Responsibility), AND corrugate boxes will continue to increase in price due to a lack of OCC coming from our households.

So, what are some solutions? First of all, we ALL need to practice how to recycle a box (EMPTY > FLATTEN > RECYCLE). Second, we need retailers to require manufacturers to print on every box made in America, “How to Recycle a Box,” as an easy step-by-step guide for their consumers.

Here’s the type of message the Paper and Packaging Board print on their boxes:

MicrosoftTeams-image (58)

Here is an example of what we intend to print on every box:

MicrosoftTeams-image (57)

We need these sustainable wonders back to help keep true to an industry, if not the only industry, that is built on a cradle-to-cradle life cycle process.

Another opportunity we can adopt is what our friends in Canada do every year after Christmas. As we all know Christmas brings about the biggest retail extravaganza which results in a tremendous amount of corrugated and folding carton use. To keep these items out of landfills, they contract with schools, churches, and community centers to have citizens drop off these discarded packaging destined for landfills in open containers. The money made from the recycling systems then provides the necessary contributions to those that allowed for the containers to be filled up. The consumer drops off their waste to an organization, helps improve sustainability ecosystems, and contributes to that organization’s needs without even having to open a checkbook. Could you imagine churches, schools, and community centers helping with sustainability and getting badly needed contributions in return?

In closing, we need to change our behaviors with our beliefs and start recycling the most sustainable product on earth. Our industry is dependent upon the reuse of old corrugated boxes. We need manufacturers to print “How to Recycle” on top flaps of boxes. We need major retailers to drive this initiative. Yep, that’s you Costco, Target, Walmart, and the rest of the retail community! Put it in your style guides! Any box made by Bay Cites brandishing the “How to Recycle” panel will be paid for by Bay Cities. Let’s all get into our communities and talk about how to initiate Boxing Days locally. Remember Paper drives? Let’s do it with the most sustainable renewable recyclable packaging device and bring in easy contributions to our schools, churches, and community centers.


We want our boxes back and we’re coming for them!

Greg Tucker Bay Cities

Greg Tucker


Bay Cities

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