What types of boxes are we talking about?

Corrugated boxes are commonly used to carry heavier products such as appliances, electronic goods, wine, fruit and vegetables.  They are frequently used as a bulk shipper, delivering many similar products in the same box.

Strong Paper Fibres  Several layers of paper fibre give the corrugated box that strength: a top and bottom layer (called linerboard) and a middle layer (called corrugating medium).  The wavy, ripple-like shape of the medium in the middle gives the box its strength. Think of the Roman arch, or a corrugated tin roof. A corrugated box always has this ripple layer (or fluting) in the middle. That’s why it is called corrugated.

The many uses of corrugated boxes

Corrugated board can be used for more than just boxes. It can also be used to make bulk bins, point-of-purchase displays, partitions, furniture, pallets, even temporary housing when earthquakes strike. (What do a cathedral, furniture, and a bicycle have in common?)

Here is a very touching article and video about using corrugated as furniture in India.

What are corrugated boxes made from?

Most corrugated boxes manufactured in Canada are 100% recycled content, made from old boxes collected from supermarkets and factories or from curbside.  Four mills use a blend of recycled fibre (old boxes) with wood chips and sawmill residues that are  left over from lumber operations.  Overall, the average recycled content for domestic shipments is 83 per cent. The industry is thus highly dependent on securing used boxes for further recycling back into new boxes, whether they come from factories or from homes. This is one reason why PPEC is urging Canadian provinces to ban the dumping of old corrugated boxes in landfills.

How are they made?

At the mill, the recovered paper or board is dropped into a pulper, which acts like a big washing machine. Non-paper materials such as plastic, glass and metals are removed through a series of cleaning and screening processes. The paper fibres are then pumped onto a fast-moving screen to form new board. The rest of the process involves removing the moisture from the board so that it can be wound on to big rolls or cut into sheets.

The rolls or sheets are then shipped to a corrugated converter (or box plant) where the different layers (liner and medium) are bonded together on a machine called a corrugator. It is at the converter that the board is transformed into the required packaging design via printing, slotting, creasing, folding and gluing. The brandowner customer or a packager then fills the package with product prior to distribution to industry or the public.  Any waste board left over from the converting process (corrugated cuttings) is collected on-site and sold back to the mills for recycling into new board. Laboratory tests indicate paper fibres can be recycled up to nine times before becoming too short or weak to make new paper products.

Where are they made?

There are currently 11 mill sites producing linerboard, corrugating medium, or both in Canada. All but one is located in Ontario or Quebec. The board from these mills is shipped to corrugated (box) plants across the country for conversion into rolls or sheets of box material.

Common Terms

A packaging mill produces containerboard which can be either linerboard (the top and bottom layers) or corrugating medium (the wavy, ripple-like middle layer, also called fluting). Either board is then shipped to a corrugated converter who uses a piece of machinery called a corrugator to blend the medium and the linerboard together. Once blended, the combined sheet can be printed, slotted, creased, folded and glued then filled with product. Voilà, you have a corrugated box! A corrugated box that is re-used is called a corrugated retripper. A corrugated box that is sent for recycling after use is called an Old Corrugated Container (OCC). While cardboard is a term commonly used, technically cardboard doesn’t exist! See blog, What do you mean cardboard doesn’t exist!.

By the Numbers

  • 1,027 Average number of new seedlings planted per minute in Canada
  • 100 Recycled content percentage of most corrugated boxes made in Canada
  • 0.2  Percentage of forest land harvested in Canada.
  • 96 Percentage of Canadians who have access to the recycling of old corrugated boxes
  • 98 Percentage of old corrugated boxes recycled by Ontario’s Blue Box program (2016)