What types of boxes are we talking about?

Various terms are used to describe paper boxes around the world (cartons, cardboard, corrugated, and just plain paper box).  The major distinction between them is whether they are corrugated or not. Corrugated means the box has a wavy, ripple-like layer in the middle that gives the box extra strength. For more information on corrugated boxes, visit Corrugated Boxes. The difference between corrugated and other boxes is also spelled out in the PPEC blog: What do you mean cardboard doesn’t exist?

This website focuses on board that is not corrugated, commonly called boxboard or paperboard in North America. It is thin and lightweight and usually used to carry a single item (such as cereal, shoes, a toy). It does not have the wavy middle layer to add box strength.

The many uses of paper boxes

While paper boxes or boxboard cartons are commonly used to contain and protect household goods, they are also used to make cores or tubes, graphic board, partitions and displays. Boxboard also has a non-packaging use as the top and bottom liner in gypsum wallboard products. And of course, kids often use paper boxes for crafts and school projects after their original use.

Most paper boxes manufactured in Canada are 100% recycled content, made from old corrugated boxes collected from supermarkets and factories or from curbside; used printing and writing paper, old newspapers, or old boxboard itself.  One mill uses virgin material (mostly wood chips and sawmill residues) and another blends this together with recycled fibre to make new boxes.  Overall, the average recycled content for domestic shipments is 73 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 from landfill (click on Recyclable).

Image provided courtesy of: Eco Terre

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  converter (or box plant) where 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 (box trim) 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 nine mill sites producing boxboard in Canada. All are located in Ontario or Quebec. The board from these mills is shipped to  box plants across the country for conversion into rolls or sheets of box material.

Image Courtesy of Ellis Packaging

Common Terms

A packaging mill produces what is generally called boxboard in Canada and paperboard in the US. This board is then shipped to a boxboard or paperboard converter (a box plant) to print, slot, crease, fold, and glue before being filled with product. A used paper box or carton that is sent for recycling in Canada is generally called old boxboard (or OBB). While cardboard is a term commonly used by the public (and even within the industry), technically cardboard doesn’t exist! (See PPEC blog). A box is either corrugated (see Corrugated Boxes Canada) or made from boxboard or paperboard (the type of board described on this website).

By the Numbers

  • 1,027 Average number of new seedlings planted per minute in Canada
  • 100 Recycled content percentage of most paper boxes made in Canada
  • 0.2 Percentage of forest harvested by the entire lumber and pulp and paper industries per year
  • 94 Percentage of Canadians who have access to the recycling of old paper boxes (old boxboard)