Skip to main content

Laminated Paperboard: An Alternative to Plastic Packaging

August 18, 2021

Paperboard, especially laminated paperboard – the glued combination of multiple papers – is arguably the most versatile packaging material available.  If you need a little convincing before you consider the switch from plastic to paperboard, here are four reasons why laminated paperboard ranks high among alternatives to plastic packaging. 

Paperboard vs. Plastic – A Uniquely Versatile Substrate

Laminated paperboard is versatile because paper itself is available in so many variations. Combining various papers makes the potential outcome very customizable. 

  • Virgin paper (first use of the fibers) starts with different trees:  Spruce and pine provide longer fibers, resulting in strength and toughness; hardwood tree fibers are used for bulk and smoothness. 
  • After fiber choice, you have multiple pulping processes – chemical, mechanical, and thermo-mechanical – each providing different characteristics in performance and cost.  Then, of course, the advancements in recycled paper using fibers reclaimed from the waste and recycling stream has been amazing. 
  • Coatings are commonly used to add properties to a given paper, such as water, grease, and corrosion resistance.
  • Paperboard printing adds color, brightness and smoothness – and these coatings are quickly transitioning from oil-based in favor of natural, biodegradable, eco-friendly alternatives.

So, an unlimited availability of paper type combined with the lamination process of gluing together a mix and match of papers results in both a very wide range of options – and highly competitive alternatives to plastic packaging.

Paperboard Wins for Sustainability and Biodegradability

A major issue for plastics, and major benefit for paperboard, is environmental. 

Only 8% of plastic waste gets recycled.  Let that sink in. Just 8%! 

By contrast, paper recycling is at 68% and climbing

Besides not being recycled, plastic poses dangers believed to be harmful to humans and animals.  Plastic takes centuries to degrade – and it turns into nanoparticles – thought to cause cancers.  Ready for a sustainable plastic alternative? Paperboard quickly decomposes – easily breaking down – returning to fibers whether on land or in water. 

Plastic is produced from fossil fuels, which are in finite supply – likely to increase in cost as mankind depletes the supply – and downsides of producing fuels become more apparent with each passing day.  By contrast, paperboard is derived from wood, a renewable resource, producing recyclable products, making the inputs and process both sustainable and perpetual. Learn more about our commitment to protecting the Earth’s natural resources and our sustainable packaging solutions.

paperboard and plastic recycling rates

Rigid Paperboard: Durable in Appearance and Performance

Rigid or thick paperboard has many advantages (listed below), but with the need to attract attention, a big benefit is printing quality.  It absorbs ink more uniformly – allowing clearer images.  And the ability to slit and cut and score and shape – even thick or thin – just makes paperboard so much more versatile than plastics. Because rigid paperboard is thick, it maintains its appearance – even when used for heavy contents.

The common plastics, including Polyethylene (LDPE and HDPE), Polypropylene (PP), and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) are waterproof, versatile, and often low cost in large quantities.  But, they are also prone to stress cracks, have low resistance to temperatures, deforming and losing their shape – where they got their name – and even flammable.

Affordability and Competitiveness of Paperboard as a Plastic Packaging Alternative

Plastics certainly haven’t become so widely used by accident.  They are often the least expensive form of packaging and protection – even if not the best performer.  One exception: Shorter runs put pressure on plastic product pricing – especially when expensive setup tooling is involved for the molds.  Laminated paperboard tooling is much less expensive and often not even necessary, making it a fitting alternative to plastic packaging.

paperboard products

Paperboard Packaging Applications

Here are a few example areas and products where paperboard is an alternative to plastic packaging:

  • Single use – safe for food cartons, boxes, slip sheets, and containers.
  • Lightweight packaging – high tensile for consumer packaging, partitions, and signage.
  • Heavyweight packaging – high bending strength great for crates, skid pads, and wood replacement.
  • Efficient converting of low complexity products – low cost for high volumes such as folding
    cartons, trays, pads, tier sheets, and sheathing.
  • Custom circumstances – intricate die-cuts and outer laminations such as for furniture components.
  • Important UV and odor resistance – absorbing less for candies, dairy, and food products.
  • Interior Packaging – Stiff and easily die-cut into special shapes for holding objects tightly in place such as for pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and manufacturing kitting of parts.
  • Sound Dampening – a low-cost sound and environmentally sensitive sound reduction material.

Thick Paperboard Advantages Over Plastic Packaging

Beyond its natural properties, paperboard packaging offers a wide range of advantages over plastic packaging. Among the leading reasons to use thick paperboard:

  • Biodegradable and non-toxic – Paperboard is completely biodegradable and non-toxic.
  • Temperature sensitive – Holds products ranging from 400-degree glues to protecting frozen vaccines.
  • Space saving – Ships and stores flat.
  • Moisture resistance – Multiple coating options can be added to an already stable moisture barrier.

Put Paperboard Packaging to Work for Your Application

Have you already thought of a packaging application where laminated paperboard would be a good fit for your company? Or, would you like more information about what makes paperboard an ideal alternative to plastic packaging? No matter the case, we are here and happy to answer your questions or provide you with a quote. Contact us today.