Taking the sustainable view of packaging

Taking the sustainable view of packaging

Wood is probably the oldest packaging material still in common use. It’s cheap, strong and easy to work which is why, for centuries, dry goods have been transported safely in wooden boxes and crates and wet goods in barrels.


The properties that made wood the obvious choice for our forefathers still apply today. Only now, we are capable of enhancing those properties to make wood tougher, lighter and more durable.  An example is OSB – Oriented Strand Board.


Without doubt, the most familiar use of wood in modern packaging is for the ubiquitous pallet, a product remarkable for its simplicity and yet indispensable to modern trade.


Over the years, new materials have emerged and found a niche in the packaging industry – but not to the detriment of timber’s share. Metals, and in particular steel, are useful for their strength, but they are heavy and expensive. Another common product is plastic.
So why persist with natural materials when others can do so much?


One reason is cost. Plastic is fairly cheap, but the tooling required to create complex moulds is very expensive and wood is less influenced by fluctuating oil prices.


Another reason is that plastic lacks many of the qualities required for packaging certain products, particularly some foodstuffs. This is one reason why citrus fruits are still shipped in boxes made of poplar wood and why raw coffee beans are transported in natural sisal sacks.


One of the most compelling reasons to use wood is environmental. Plastics and metals are finite resources and, while most are recyclable, they are not genuinely renewable. They also have significant carbon footprints which require significant energy for their production.


In comparison, softwood which is grown in sustainably-managed forests is a renewable resource. New trees are planted as mature ones are harvested and, as they grow, these young trees absorb atmospheric carbon and store it in their wood fibres. This carbon remains locked away long after the tree is felled and its fibre used to make a wood-based panel. 


Ensuring that wood-based packaging is from a sustainable source is easy thanks to certification schemes such as those operated by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).


After natural sawn timber, one of the most common wood-based packaging products is plywood.


Plywood, however, is no longer a cheap material. It must be made from veneers shaved from prime quality large-diameter logs. Nor is it as consistent as modern alternatives since it will include imperfections such as knots and splits.


For this reason, an increasing number of manufacturers are now choosing to use Oriented Strand Board instead of plywood. OSB’s lower cost (compared even to softwood ply) has, in the past, been misinterpreted as an acknowledgement of poorer quality. But this is far from the case; its low price is due to the fact that it is made out of forest thinnings – small-diameter logs that have few alternative uses.


Instead of utilising expensive veneer sheets, as plywood does, OSB uses relatively small strands of wood which are layered in specific orientations and bonded together with a resin under high heat and pressure. This structure gives the board multi-directional strength and eliminates weak points in the resulting board.


OSB has excellent impact strength and its construction means it holds screws and other fixings securely, even near the edge of the board.


In Germany, the use of OSB in packaging is increasing. It has gained widespread popularity particularly in the automotive industry where its strength and versatility make it a favourite for transporting high value components such as engines.


The packaging industry is frequently the target of criticism over its perceived role in generating waste. Though this is seldom justified, the use of a low-carbon, recyclable and sustainable product like OSB can still significantly reduce a manufacturer’s overall environmental impact.


For further information please telephone 01786 812 225 or visit www.norbord.co.uk



Stephanie Cornwall
Stephanie Cornwall