When comparing the best type of packaging; Cardboard versus Plastic who wins?

For the last few years, across the globe, we have been inundated with negativity around the effects of plastic on our eco-systems and how ‘green’ alternatives such as cardboard are better. Is there any real truth behind that statement? Or, is it just propaganda? We don’t see cardboard washing up on shores or endangering sea creatures. But, what about the effects that are less obvious?

Through deep research and examination, Tri-pack has put together an overview comparison of cardboard packaging versus plastic packaging.

Energy consumption

Cardboard – Making paper and cardboard is the third-largest industrial use of energy on the planet.

Plastic – Plastic is light and durable and while energy is used, it is a fraction on that for cardboard or paper.


Cardboard – When cardboard ends up in local landfill, it will eventually rot down, this is a great biodegradable factor, but as this process happens, it creates the greenhouse gas; methane.

Plastic – While plastic (generally) not biodegradable and therefore never rot, it will therefore never sequester carbon.


Cardboard – Cardboard can, of course, be reused. But only about 10% of it is. Is often becomes wet or damaged therefore deeming it unfit for use.

Plastic – Being a more rigid and strong material, plastic can be used time and time again, therefore, reducing the carbon footprint as less packaging boxes would need to be manufactured, delivered and stored.

Raw material

Cardboard – While its raw material is natural, it is depleting our much-needed rainforests and therefore effecting our carbon levels.

Plastic – Plastics are organic materials that contain elements such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, chlorine and sulfur, these are resources which will continue to naturally regenerate.


Cardboard –  Manufacturing cardboard creates 50x more water pollutants and 70% more air pollutants during production than that of plastic.

Plastic – Made from toxic chemicals, the process of manufacturing plastic can be dangerous to workers or the environment when proper regulations or not followed and these toxic gases escape from catalysts.


Cardboard – Cardboard which becomes wet, oily or dirty or contains a wax coating can not, ever, be recycled.

Plastic – Plastic can be recycled globally, there is just a lack of local recycling centres which support it and a lack of education around what plastic can be recycled and where.

Ultimately, while there are:

which is a growing concern, this is not due to the use or manufacturing of plastic per se. It is due to a lack of government education and policies in place to recycle more of these plastics. Overall, the manufacturing and use of cardboard is far more damaging than plastic and that is the issue which needs to be addressed.

Many companies, for example, Riverford Organics have moved away from cardboard, to plastic, despite the headlines urging us to switch the other way. This move, helped Riverford Organics reduce their carbon footprint by 70%.