Last week, we got a comment on our blog post about types corrugated cardboard from a student:
Hi! I am doing a project for my school and wondered which of these [types of corrugated cardboard] would be best for a shipping company that reuses their boxes until they become damaged? We are interested in price, durability, and practicality for transport.
My main goal when writing this blog is to always be helpful. Anyone that submits an honest question to the blog can expect an reply, and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll research it and get back to you.
This is a good question, and it’s a tough one. I’ll do my best to give a detailed response below.
In this theoretical example, durability is pretty important. The longer the corrugated cardboard lasts, the more times it can be shipped, and the better it is for the environment. A box that is shipped twice doubles its value over a box that is shipped once. If durability was the only factor that mattered, you’d want to go with the strongest corrugated possible—and there are some pretty strong options here. One of the strongest types of corrugated we offer is called 275 Mullen BC.
Let’s quickly break down that name and what it means: BC means that this is a double-wall corrugated, stacking B-flute and C-flute on top of each other. 275 Mullen means that this type of corrugated can withstand a whopping 275 pounds before it bursts. So it’s pretty strong. However, a box that can be shipped twice isn’t very valuable to you if it costs ten times as much as a normal box. And this is where we start to run into trouble. The price of corrugated cardboard is sort of like the price of a car—it’s negotiated with a salesperson and isn’t set in stone. Two companies could be paying completely different prices for corrugated.
Since I can’t say with certainty how much more a company would pay for 275 Mullen BC versus 32 ECT B (one of the most common types of corrugated), It’s not possible to say whether the extra cost would be justified. That would have to be determined by an analysis from the company itself.
A much better way to make sure that your boxes last multiple shipments would be to focus on other variables. For example—a standard box will last just as long as an extra-strong box if both are handled with care by your shipper. Boxes get damaged when they’re thrown around, have heavy objects stacked on top of them, or are otherwise handled carelessly.
How much empty space there is in these boxes also affects how long you can use them for. A box with a lot of empty space is much easier to crush than a box that fits perfectly. Another variable you may not have considered is corrugated cardboards' shelf life. Did you know that corrugated “rots?” Basically, after 18 months or so, it loses its moisture and becomes brittle and easy to crack.
On top of that, atmospheric conditions affect how long corrugated can last. For example, a really dry climate will suck the moisture out of corrugated a lot quicker than a neutral environment. So if you’re regularly shipping to a place like Arizona, you shouldn’t expect your boxes to last longer than a year in the first place.
So which type of corrugated cardboard is the “best?” Considering the many different variables in play here, it’s hard to commit to an answer to the original question. I dug around and asked a few people in multiple departments, and still wasn’t able to come up with a verdict.
And this is pretty common in the industry. Every company will be dealing with so many different variables that what’s best for one company could be wrong for another.
My personal advice for the purpose of this student project? Get a slightly sturdier corrugated cardboard, and then make sure you’re shipping these boxes with extra care. Be prepared to replace them pretty often though—even in the best of conditions.
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