The Power of Recycled Content in Paperboard Packaging

Tray being placed in recycling bin

Consumers are increasingly demanding packaging that is designed with our planet in mind.

This conclusion is reinforced by a recent McKinsey survey, which revealed almost half of consumers in the United States feel that environmental impact is an extremely or very important packaging characteristic when making purchasing decisions. However, that same study found nuances in the average shopper’s perspective.

The study found that while US consumers do care about their environmental footprint, they also care about convenience, product protection, their perception of a brand and its quality, and price—a critical concern during periods of high inflation. In other words, consumers want packaging to deliver on several fronts.

Most consumers say they are willing to pay more for packaging that they feel meets every need, according to Trivium’s 2023 Buying Green Report. Brands can help consumers make these decisions by clearly communicating the credentials of their packaging.

Trivium’s 2023 report found that many consumers were very interested in recyclable packaging and recycled content in packaging, with 82 percent and 78 percent respectively saying they were likely to purchase a product based on those packaging claims. Recent research from Boston Consultancy Group confirms this finding, with 78 percent of consumers saying they are likely to purchase a product based on a ‘made with recycled content’ claim, and 64 percent saying it was important for packaging to contain recycled content.

These surveys highlight that ‘recyclable’ and ‘contains recycled content’ claims for packaging are benefits that consumers easily recognize, addressing one of the major issues many shoppers have—uncertainty about which package will help them reduce waste. Clear labeling that indicates if a package is recyclable or how much recycled material the package contains is a simple and effective message that will resonate with the increasingly environmentally aware consumer.

Consumers have positive perceptions around recycling of paper and paper-based packaging. Recent research shows that 66 percent of Americans believe recycling paper is worth their time and that 60 percent find it easy to do so. This confidence will increase as the visibility of products packed using recycled content grows.

Listening to consumer and brand demands for more recycled content in packaging, while considering attributes like price and aesthetics, led us to develop our latest paperboard innovation. PaceSetter Rainier™ stands apart from PaceSetter paperboard in that it is made from 100 percent recycled fiber but offers the whiteness, brightness, and excellent printability you’d expect from bleached paperboard (also known as solid bleached sulfate or SBS).

This means brands can increase the recycled content in their packaging portfolio while maintaining the clean, bright look they need for impact on the retail shelf.

At the beginning of 2023, Graphic Packaging announced plans to build a new recycled paperboard facility in Waco, Texas dedicated to producing high-quality coated recycled paperboard (CRB). The plant, slated to ramp up production in 2026, supports our vision of a renewable future. When complete, this cutting-edge facility will be able to recycle fiber volumes equivalent to 15 million paper cups a day, dramatically boosting our capacity to offer high-quality recycled paperboard packaging to customers across the U.S. This is in addition to big investments in recycled paperboard production in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Our new machine became operational in early 2022 and is producing North America’s highest-quality CRB while using less water and electricity to achieve this.