Ultimate Guide to Custom Shipping Boxes
This definitive guide breaks down custom shipping boxes: when to use them, which style to pack your products in, and how to select the right strength. We also explore the two most important considerations for running a successful and sustainable business: your mailers boxes' impact on your bottom line and the environment.
If you prefer to talk to a human, please contact us! We’ll help you find the right eco-friendly shipping solutions for your business.
Ready to order your shipping boxes? Shop 100% Recycled Custom Shipping Boxes, all of which are tailored to your specifications. They can also be custom branded with your unique design! Or shop Discounted Shipping Boxes, where we've reduced the cost for our most popular recycled shipping box sizes to make it even easier for you to use sustainable packaging.
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Table of Contents:
- When should I use a mailer box for shipping?
- What type of shipping box should I use?
- What are flutes?
- What does shipping box strength mean?
- How do I fold my EcoEnclose shipping box?
- When do I need lining, bubble, or fill with my box?
- What size shipping box do I need? How do I measure a shipping box?
- What kind of tape should I use?
- Can I custom print my shipping boxes?
- Are shipping boxes eco friendly? Is paper more sustainable than plastic?
- How do you design a sustainable shipping box?
Definitive Guide to shipping Boxes
Choose Your Box Style
LM, TL, Tray
Choose Your Board Type
Strength: 44C, 32C
Standard: 23B, 32B
Size For A Perfect Fit
Make It Eco-Friendly
10% recycled, recyclable,
avoid coatings and
Brand Your Box (Or Not)
Tell your brand and
Void Fill, Tape And More
Chose WAT when
Recyclable void fill
When should I use custom shipping boxes to ship my orders? When are mailers better than corrugated boxes?
Mailers are pre-constructed envelopes for shipping relatively flat and lightweight goods, such as apparel, books, cosmetics, and jewelry. You might be debating between a flat mailer and a shipping box and wondering what the difference is. Almost all products can be shipped in a corrugated box. Apparel, appliances, jewelry, skincare, yarn and fabrics, outdoor gear, food...the list goes on. So, the real question is: what are the pros of using a corrugated box versus a mailer? For some businesses, the pros of shipping boxes outweigh the cons. For others, mailers end up being the way to go.
If you decide that mailers are a better shipping solution for your business than shipping boxes, we have you covered! Shop our full line of Recycled, Eco-Friendly Mailers or check out our Ultimate Guide to Poly Mailers for more info.
The pros of shipping in a box:
- They do a great job protecting your products.
- They make for a sleek presentation.
- They come in virtually infinite dimensions, so you can likely find one to meet your needs.
- Once filled, shipping boxes are stackable, making them ideal for warehouse storage.
- They are made with paper, a renewable resource, and can be comprised of up to 100% recycled content.
- They are recyclable and compostable.
The cons of shipping in a box:
- They are not 100% weatherproof.
- They are typically more expensive than mailers.
- They are heavier than mailers. This can result in higher shipping costs on both inbound boxes (shipped to fulfillment location) and outbound boxes (shipped to customer).
- They take up more space in your warehouse.
- They have to be assembled and taped, which means they require more labor than a mailer.
- They use more material than a mailer.
Here are the types of products that are best suited for shipping in a mailer box:
Large or Bulky Items:
Boots, water bottles, blenders, or children’s toys. Items that are wide, tall, and relatively deep often need a box rather than a mailer.
Collections of Items:
If you’re shipping a few different items in a single order – for example, several lotions and hair care, or two bottles of oil and three bars of soap, or a pair of shoes and a hat – a box tends to be more flexible and work better than a mailer. This is especially true if your orders vary, but you only want to keep one or two different shipping containers on hand. You can stock a single box size that can work for almost all orders.
Items that must be handled with care, such as large glass bottles or candles. Small, compact bottles can often be wrapped and shipped in padded mailers or bubble mailers. For larger glass bottles, a shipping box is the best option. Boxes also tend to protect items with sharp corners, like hardcover books and picture frames, better than mailers.
Items That Demand a High-End Presentation:
While mailers can be beautifully branded, a custom shipping box typically provides a more impressive experience for customers. Boxes retain their shape and allow items to be arranged appealingly with custom elements like tissue paper. For this reason, some companies selling products that could be sold in a mailer (such as apparel) will still opt for a box.
Items Shipped as Part of a Subscription Service:
Subscription services or “box of the month” companies typically use boxes for many of the reasons listed above. Most importantly, the majority of them deliver a collection of items each month. Successful subscription services understand the importance of creating an appealing unboxing experience that keeps their customers coming back again and again.
Read more on our blog: Choosing Between a Mailer or a Shipping Box
What type of shipping box should I use?
When it comes to custom shipping boxes, there are five basic styles to choose from. Here’s what each is best suited for:
Tab Locking Box (TL)
These are the boxes we recommend the most and sell the most. This is the classic presentation style box that is used by many brand-conscious eCommerce businesses to create a wonderful unboxing experience for the customer. Their logo and branding look great on the lid of the box. The locking tabs create a clean seal for the box and get the sealing tape on the bottom corner versus the top edge of a Literature Mailer or across the top of a Regular Slotted Container. These are ideal for most eCommerce products, including apparel, accessories, cosmetics, small toys, and outdoor wear. Avoid the TL when shipping large boxes (greater than 15” x 15”) or heavy goods (>15lbs).
Literature Mailer (LM)
Very similar in design to the TL box, this box style can be used for the same items. Because the material footprint is essentially identical, we offer the same price for LMs and TLs. Thus, for most customers, the choice between a TL and LM is based on aesthetic preference. The LM has the seam on the top edge of the box, whereas the TL has it on the bottom edge. The LM’s lid rests on the sides of the box, which hides the side seams and folds that you can see on a TL. However, the LM is quicker to assemble due to the lid folding into the box versus the TL’s two tabs that fold into slots.
Regular Slotted Container (RSC)
RSCs are the traditional industrial box seen. Think moving boxes and Amazon boxes. Each side has a tab that folds over, and then the seam is taped shut on the top and bottom. RSCs are great for heavy products (>15lbs) and those that require deep box sizes (>6”). Many customers use RSCs when packing fragile items in packaging paper or heavy items such as books, liquids, or ceramics.
Five-Panel Folder (FPF)
Very similar in design to the RSC, except FPFs have an extra inside flap that reinforces the structural integrity of the box. This design is best for tall or long items such as a wooden sculpted Statue of Liberty, a skyscraper model, or a baseball bat.
One Panel Fold (OPF)
In a class all by itself, the OPF is a great box for slim, flat items such as picture frames, prints, and books. These are sometimes referred to as mailer boxes because they are thin and have some of the characteristics of a flat envelope mailer, even though they are constructed from corrugated. The OPF flaps each fold around the product and meets on the backside, creating a clean front panel with no seams. The OPF looks great when printed. Several variations can make these boxes fast to pack. For example, we have developed a wrap-around OPF that allows you to wrap the product instead of folding it over each of the four sides. The OPF is a great way to package large volumes of the right product in record time.
While corrugated pads are not actually a type of custom shipping box, they are a custom sized corrugated product that serves as a shipping accessory, so we’re including a description here. These typically serve one of three purposes:
- Product divider: Imagine two similarly sized wooden jewelry boxes sitting side by side in your shipping box. You’re concerned they will knock against each other, chipping paint or damaging the wood. Place a corrugated pad between the jewelry boxes to keep them from bouncing into each other during transit.
- Additional compression protection: A semi-fragile bottle of lotion or oil could benefit from a layer of compression protection. You have more cushioning upon impact by adding a pad to the top and/or bottom of the package.
- Increase rigidity of a print: Used frequently by artists when shipping with mailers, a corrugated pad adds additional rigidity to your print to reduce the chance of bending during transit.
Scored pad dividers can separate two or more products within your box, providing more visibility, attention, and protection to each piece. Imagine shipping a t-shirt and a rolled print in a single box. Without a divider, the t-shirt will move around, damaging the print. With a divider, the t-shirt can arrive looking sharp: still folded with the print showing immediately. The print, meanwhile, was contained in its cozy corner and arrived with no damage from the t-shirt.
Like pads, trays are not technically boxes. They play a critical role in shipping, though. They’re often used to transport plants, cans, bottles, and more within a retail or warehouse environment. Trays are similar to Tab Locking Boxes and Literature Mailers; they’re just missing the top closure.
What are flutes?
A corrugated sheet has two parts: the linerboard (the flat, outer covering) and the flute (the s-shaped, wavy paper between the linerboard). The flute enables corrugated sheets to resist bending and allows the sheets and boxes made from them to withstand pressure.
Flutes vary in two main characteristics: their height (which creates the thickness of the cardboard sheet) and how tightly or loosely they’re waved.
The following chart describes the most common types of flutes you’ll see in custom custom shipping boxes:
|B||1/8” thick, 42-50 flutes / foot. Resists crushing. Good stacking strength. Good for folding and printing, and therefore, good for presentation style boxes. Lower price vs C or E flute.|
|C||11/64″ thick, 39-43 flutes / foot. Provides good cushioning and strong enough for medium weight boxes. An effective surface for printing, though slightly less so than B flute.|
|E||1/16” thick, 94 flutes / foot. Strong crush resistance. Excellent surface for printing. Excellent for folding. Becoming more popular in eCommerce presentation boxes. Reduces box storage space.|
The above chart describes single-wall boards. Corrugated sheets can also be double- or even triple-wall for added thickness and strength; however, multi-wall corrugated sheets are typically only used in large industrial containers. They’re rarely needed for traditional eCommerce.
The vast majority of eCommerce shipping boxes are made with single-wall flutes and are typically B, C, or E flutes, all of which strike a good balance strength to weight.
What does shipping box strength mean?
The strength of a specific box is determined by three factors:
- The style
- The dimensions
- The strength rating of the corrugated sheets
This strength rating of the corrugated sheets depends on:
- The thickness of the linerboard
- The material used for the linerboard
- The adhesive used to glue the flutes to the linerboard
ECT (or Edge Crush Test) is the most common way to describe corrugated strength today. ECT tells you how much weight a corrugated sheet can withstand when standing up on its edge.
For example, a 32ECT corrugated sheet, the most common type, can withstand 32 pounds of pressure stacked on the edge of the board. For most of the last century, cardboard strength was measured by the Mullen Test. Also referred to as the burst test, this determines how much pressure a corrugated sheet can withstand when laying flat, suspended in the air.
The Mullen Test is measured in PSI, and the most common strength is 200lbs/sq inch. The fundamental difference between the two tests is that under the Mullen Test, there is a minimum weight requirement for the liner of the corrugated sheet. That is, the Mullen Test requires that the base papers used to make corrugated linerboard weigh at least a certain minimum number of pounds per given unit of area. The ECT has eliminated this requirement, allowing the use of fewer and lighter-weight materials while still providing high performance. So, when comparing two identically sized cartons with similar strengths, one being Mullen Test rated and one being ECT rated, the ECT rated carton will weigh less and use fewer materials.
ECT strength is suitable for the vast majority of shipping boxes and is the only one that works with boxes made with recycled content. EcoEnclose box strengths are all ECT, and most companies selling custom shipping boxes are in the same boat. As you determine the best type of corrugated sheet to use for your boxes, check out this great reference from the team of folks that have delivered millions of packages just like yours: UPS. Even more important than their vast experience is the fact that they’re the folks who often decide whether or not to honor claims on damaged packages! UPS provides the following recommendations on their website.
(UPS does not address the 23B material, but based on our own experience, we have added our guidelines to the chart below.)
|Maximum Weight of Box and Contents (lbs/kg)||Size Limit of Box Length, Width, and Depth Added (inches/cm)*||Minimum Bursting Test (lbs per sq. inch/kg per sq. cm)||Minimum Edge Crush Test (ECT) (lbs per inch/kg per cm width)|
*EcoEnclose recommendations; not provided by UPS.
As described above, ECT (or Mullen Test) is just one factor that influences the strength of a box. The style is also important. Regular Slotted Container (RSC) styles are inherently stronger, while Tab Locking styles are less durable. Finally, the bigger the box, the lower its strength. Put another way, a box that is 5x5x5 made with 32ECT C will resist crushing more effectively than the same style box that is 10x10x10 made with 32ECT C.
Which corrugated material should I use?
For a presentation style box (such as a Tab Locking Box or Literature Mailer), you will probably want to select a board that’s easy to fold, such as a B flute or E flute. While we make presentation boxes with thicker material, you may find the folding and creasing to be a little more cumbersome. We typically suggest 32 ECT C or 44 ECT for RSC boxes, depending on the weight of the product shipped. We can make most custom shipping boxes out of most boards, but we suggest ordering a sample first.
Protecting your product and ensuring your package can withstand the weight of its contents during transit:
If you’re shipping small, light items that are not fragile, you likely don’t need the heavy-duty box. Look closely at the table above regarding the recommended product weight and box dimensions for safe transit.
Some corrugated sheets–especially 32ECT E–are thinner and sleeker, resulting in more successful printing. Contrast this with the 44 ECT, which has fewer flutes that are twice as wide. These flutes create small ridges on the printing surface, which you can feel if you run your hand across the cardboard. Such ridges make it difficult to get an even print finish.
Consider the cost of the box itself, the inbound shipping (to your fulfillment location), and the outbound shipping (to your customer). Board material is typically stronger because it has more cardboard material per square inch. For two identical designs, the stronger material will cost more and weigh more.
EcoEnclose offers five different corrugated sheet options: 23ECT B Flute, 32ECT B Flute, 32ECT C Flute, 32ECT E Flute, and 44ECT C Flute. We work with these five options because we have found these satisfy nearly all non-industrial shipping needs and are the most cost-effective options to meet said needs. As you consider your options, here’s a handy chart to determine the best sheet type for your box.
|Sheet Type||Stock Box Style(s)*||Use if…||Avoid if…|
|23 ECT B Flute||LM, TL, OPF, Tray||You ship items that collectively weigh less than 5lbs, want to minimize costs, or want a basic print on the outside of the box. This is utility corrugate that uses minimal material. It is more subject to crushing as it is not as strong or as stiff as other options.||You are shipping heavy things (>15lbs), have a large box (greater than 32 inches of L + W + H), and want to print on the inside of the box.|
|32 ECT B Flute||RSC, LM, TL, FPF, OPF||You ship items that collectively weigh between 15lbs and 25 lbs|
|32 ECT C Flute||Large LM, Large TL, RSC, FPF, OPF, Tray||You ship items that collectively weigh between 15lbs and 25 lbs or have a larger Presentation Box with greater than 30 inches in L+W+H).||You are shipping very light or small materials, likely overpaying for the extra protection. B flute can be 15-20% cheaper that C Flute.|
|32 ECT E Flute||LM, TL||You ship items that collectively weigh between 15lbs and 25 lbs. You are want a very clean design, an excellent printing finish or to print on the inside of the box. This also a good option if you have limited storage space because the material is much thinner than either B flute or C flute.||You are shipping very light or small materials, likely overpaying for the extra protection. The raw material for 23 ECT can cost 15-20% less than that 32 ECT.|
|44 ECT C Flute||RSC, FPF||You ship items that collectively weight up to 40lbs or you have a high value product that needs the heavy duty crush protection.||You are shipping very light or small materials, likely overpaying for the extra protection. Raw material on 44 ECT can cost 40-50% more than the 32 ECT.|
*EcoEnclose recommendations; not provided by UPS.
We can offer most designs in any material if you have a specific need. We try to limit the stock options to simplify the decision process.
How do I fold my EcoEnclose shipping box?
Here we show a quick tutorial on how to fold each of the 7 boxes we offer at EcoEnclose
When do I need protective packaging, lining, or void fill with my custom shipping box?
If your items fit snugly without moving around in your box AND they’re not fragile, you likely do not need void fill, though you might consider adding tissue paper for presentation. EcoEnclose custom cuts every box, so customers can get precise dimensions for their needs. We hope this allows you to eliminate or minimize void fill while preventing you from paying for more shipping supplies than you need.
Five reasons you might need fill or lining:
Individual Product Protection:
Fragile items should be individually wrapped before being placed in their shipping container. Wrap each product with enough cushioning to protect against the impact of being dropped or colliding with other products in the box.
Blocking & Bracing:
If you sell a few different items and end up with a box that has space, you may need to fill that space to prevent the contents from moving around in transit.
Some items are not fragile or awkwardly shaped. However, they may require edge crush protection to ensure any impact to the package does not damage their corners or sides.
Dust & Scuff Protection:
Some items call for basic dust and scuff protection. Examples include formal wear, like dress shirts.
Some items that fill empty space can also enhance your presentation, adding a finishing touch that’s sure to impress the recipient while showcasing your brand.
EcoEnclose lining, void fill, and packing paper:
Check out our Definitive Guide to Protective Packaging and Void Fill for more information.
A traditional void fill that is balled or crinkled up to fill space in a shipping box. Also used to wrap products for some protection and presentation. They are available pre-cut or in rolls (and dispensers are available to make them easy to tear). We recommend rolls simply because they help you use only the amount of paper you need at any given time, which is good for the environment and your bottom line. There are quite a few types of packing paper, with different thicknesses, textures, colors, and moldability. We at EcoEnclose offer five different types - Kraft Paper, Newsprint Paper, Bogus Paper, Indented Kraft Paper, NextGen Wheat Paper.
Sheets of shredded corrugated that can be wrapped around items or rolled up and used to fill empty spaces. If you’re consistently packaging the same product, these can be cut to a specific size, eliminating the need to tear paper or cut bubble wrap.
This wonderful product can be molded around items to provide cushioning and padded protection. Imagine bubble wrap but in paper instead of plastic. Being paper-based, it is naturally biodegradable, compostable, and fully recyclable. The GreenWrap we sell is also made from certified sustainable sourced paper – Bonus!
Tissue paper makes for a beautiful presentation and is an excellent dust and scuff protector. It can be a strong addition if your custom shipping boxes fit your products snugly, but you want to add some extra panache for the recipient to enjoy.
Ornament Paper Shred
Shredded indented Kraft packaging paper that can be scrunched up and laid into a shipping box to provide basic cushioning and make for a nice presentation. Great for companies that ship a variety of items in small boxes and need to lay down a cushioning and decorative nest at the bottom.
An eco-friendly alternative to polystyrene packaging solutions. We have worked on a unique molded pulp tray design that allows for multiple bottle sizes to be mixed and matched to work for your business. Great for shipping essential oils, tinctures, and other small fragile bottles.
Corrugated sheets custom cut to separate or hold your products within your box. These are a great solution for companies that see the unboxing experience as key to their brand, ship multiple items in one box, consistently ship the same combination of items, or ship a high enough volume of boxes to warrant the investment in designing these inserts.
EcoEnclose currently offers custom inserts for orders of 10,000 or more. If this describes your business, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a description of your needs and order quantity to get started.
Check out our Definitive Guide to Protective Packaging and Void Fill for more information.
What size shipping box do I need? How do I measure my goods to get the right sized custom shipping box?
At EcoEnclose, every single box we sell is custom cut, so it’s the exact size you need it to be. Minimize all of the extra, unnecessary air within your custom shipping box for more eco-friendly shipping that is less expensive and visually appealing.
Trying to figure out the right size for your custom shipping box? We recommend laying the item(s) you need to ship on a table and measuring an imaginary boundary around your products to determine the length, width, and height of your shipping box.
If your vision is to make the box fit perfectly around your items, then a simple guideline would be to add 0.125 inches to the length and 0.125 inches to the width (and keep the height the same).
If you use void fill, consider what type and how much you plan on using, and add this cushion to your dimensions.
Note that the dimensions you input on our site for boxes refer to the inside dimensions of the box you will receive. We recommend ordering a sample before stocking up if you have any doubts. Most other shipping supplies companies provide stock sizes for each box style. If you order stock box sizes, we recommend going through the same steps as above and finding the stock box size (in the style you are seeking) in dimensions that are at least as big as what you measured.
Minimizing your box size is ideal for several reasons:
- Reduce the void fill you need
- Reduce the materials used to package products
- Reduce shipping costs (especially in the age of dimensional weight pricing)
Learn more on our blog: Right-Size Your Sustainable Packaging
What kind of tape should I use?
There are two main categories of carton sealing tape.
Water-Activated Tape (WAT)
Also known as gummed tape, WAT is a form of paper tape with a water-based chemical adhesive that is reactivated by water. It can be found in plain Kraft paper or with several layers of paper and fiberglass reinforcement. When the water-activated adhesive is applied to a carton, a capillary action bonds the tape to the carton.
WAT is stronger and tamper-evident, and it performs well under all weather conditions. EcoEnclose uses WAT for its outgoing shipments for this very reason because we typically ship out heavy boxes.
Pressure-Sensitive Tape (PST)
Consists of film and a tacky substance that adheres to a given surface when light pressure is applied. Most tapes you use at home–like masking tape, duct tape, Scotch tape–are all PST.
For most small businesses that ship fairly lightweight items, PST is typically sufficient and allows for simpler operations.
|Water-Activated Tape||Pressure-Sensitive Tape|
|Tamper Resistant||Extremely tamper resistant, as it cannot be peeled off and must be broken. If you’re received a box sealed with water activated tape, you know this! No box is completely tamper resistant though, as a fresh layer of tape on top of the tampering can hide this.||Less tamper resistant, as pressure sensitive tape can be peeled off.|
|Strength||Provides a strong seal. Typically, the box itself will break well before the tape will.||Seal is not as strong; though is sufficient for most standard, lightweight boxes.|
|Ease of use||Requires tape to be activated by water, ideally with special dispensers designed for WAT.||Does not require any special dispenser to use. We recommend hand tearing this tape.|
|Cost||Often (though not in the case of EcoEnclose’s WAT), it is more expensive per foot than its PST counterparts. However, many argue that less WAT is used because of the strength of its seal, leading to equivalent or even lower total cost. Again, WAT would ideally be used in conjunction with a special dispenser, so it does have a higher up front cost than PST.||Often (again, though not in the case of EcoEnclose’s tape options), it is less expensive per foot. however, people often double seal or use more tape than is needed leading to higher actual cost of use.|
|Weather||WAT’s adhesive or strength does not change in cold or heat.||PST’s adhesive effectiveness sometimes decreases in extreme – hot or cold – weather conditions.|
A note on tape sustainability:
The vast majority of packing tape is made with virgin materials. Options (like ours) do exist that are made with recycled or renewable (plant-based) materials. Additionally, options (like ours) are technically biodegradable and/or recyclable.
However, when looking for the most eco-friendly tape, it is important to understand the disposal process for the material. The majority of boxes in the US are recycled, not composted. The process of recycling corrugated boxes involves churning them with water to make a slurry. In this process, adhesive and polymers rise to the top and are skimmed off and disposed. For this reason, the majority of materials in packing tape are likely to end up in a landfill, even if they are technically recyclable or biodegradable. Therefore, we recommend focusing predominantly on how tape is made when choosing the most sustainable option.
How Do I Tape My Shipping Box?
These layouts show where your tape will be placed on your shipping box once it is folded.
Can my custom shipping boxes also be custom branded?
Yes! Branding your boxes can be a great way to promote your brand and wow your customers.
turns your design into a “plate” which is then used to stamp your boxes with fast drying ink. There is a setup fee and time associated with it, but then the per-box printing fee is fairly low. EcoEnclose uses flexographic printing and has helped companies design beautiful shippers! As an added bonus, flexo printing (unlike digital printing) easily allows for the use of soy- and water-based inks, which can be non-toxic and can be safely recycled or composted.
is a process by which ink is forced onto a surface through a prepared screen of fine material to create the desired design. It is known to create vibrant colors because the ink is applied thickly. This process is most frequently used for apparel, but it is an option on cardboard for shops that are already screen printing as part of their business.
allows for an immense array of colors and designs. Finish can be matte or gloss and the set up time is low. However, the cost per box is relatively high. Digital corrugated printing is therefore not typically used for high volume shipper boxes and is reserved for things like displays and retail packaging. Note that digital printing, especially when applied to mottled white boxes, is significantly worse for the planet than the below printing methods and box materials!
EcoEnclose uses flexographic printing and offers single-color custom printing on virtually any box size and style. We also have multi-panel printing options, and we can print on the inside or outside of each box in one or two colors. This means you can get the environmental benefits of flexographic printing on 100% recycled kraft boxes, and you’ll still get a gorgeous, well-designed box that conveys your brand identity.
Even better? When you work with EcoEnclose, you can print your boxes with Algae Ink, a unique carbon sequestering black ink made with algae cells!
Click here to learn more about EcoEnclose’s custom printing services for boxes.
Are custom shipping boxes eco-friendly? Is paper more sustainable than plastic?
Grab a cup of fair trade coffee and stay awhile… this is one tough question!
There are lots of things to consider when it comes to the full environmental life cycle of your shipping containers.
What does it take to make them?
Typically, a cardboard box requires more resources and takes more energy to produce than an equivalent plastic mailer.
One 13x19x2” cardboard box requires 0.7 lbs of paper while 1 12.5x18.25x.25” poly mailer requires 0.052 lbs of plastic. However, cardboard is made from trees, which are a renewable resource. The same box takes 23 times more energy and emits 6 times more CO2 in production than the mailer.
What does it take to ship them to you, and then to your customers?
The carbon footprint of shipping is driven both by the dimension and weight of packages. Here again, cardboard is typically heavier than an equivalent poly mailer (and inherently leads to more air being shipped) and therefore requires more energy to ship.
What happens after you use them?
Most boxes and mailers can be reused, at least once. However, most of them are not reused. Consumers are far more likely to recycle cardboard boxes than plastic mailers. Recent studies have shown that over 70% of cardboard boxes are recycled in the US and this figure is increasing each year. This is very important, as it means that even though poly mailers do have some eco advantages in manufacturing and logistics, the majority of them are still landfill-bound. On the other hand, boxes are more likely to find themselves recycled and put back in the industrial supply chain. Additionally, boxes can be composted.
There is not a bottom line, unfortunately. Paper has its advantages just like plastic mailers. Ultimately, we recommend you make the best decision for your specific products and company. What protects and presents your goods as effectively as possible? If you have decided that boxes are the best solution for you, then the best thing you can do for the planet is to work hard to make all aspects of your shipper boxes sustainable.
How do you develop a truly sustainable custom shipping box?
Eco-Features of EcoEnclose 100% Recycled Shipping Boxes:
100% Recycled Content
95% Post-consumer Waste
Many companies use a shipping box and - because the box is curbside recyclable - showcase it as a sustainable option. This is incredibly frustrating because a box made with virgin content is a major environmental miss. Brands that truly want to do right by the planet are asking the right question: “Once I’ve decided on custom shipping boxes as my packaging solution, what steps should I take to make sure my boxes are eco-friendly?”
Choose as much recycled content as possible.
A lot of companies tout “made with recycled content” on their boxes. This is a fuzzy statement, that as a standard, typically means made with approximately 30% recycled content. If you can, look for boxes that are made with 100% recycled content and as much post-consumer waste as possible. Our boxes are 100% recycled, with at least 95% post-consumer waste. We say, “if you can” because it is important to acknowledge that paper products made with recycled content are weaker than their virgin content counterparts. Virgin paper fibers are longer, and longer fibers interweave better, leading to a stronger paper.
In some situations, such as boxes carrying heavy items that are palletized, or boxes carrying expensive and fragile items (think high-end electronics), 100% recycled corrugated isn’t strong enough. But we have found that most products being shipped to customers work well in our 100% recycled boxes. We encourage you to order a sample or contact us if you have concerns about the quality and strength of recycled cardboard.
Make your box as small and snug as possible for your needs.
If you order stock sizes from a supplier, work hard to find the most suitable size for your needs. Better yet, order custom sizes so you know you are not using any more material than you need – for the box itself and void fill. EcoEnclose 100% Recycled Shipping Boxes are available in a multitude of configurations and every box is customized to your specific needs so your unique products fit perfectly.
Encourage your customers to reuse, recycle or compost their boxes.
Let them know in your confirmation or shipping emails. Add a stamp or a note in their box encouraging them to dispose of their shipping boxes responsibly. Or take a cue from some of our super creative companies and provide cool ideas for reuse (one company filled their box with seed paper and encouraged customers to plant a garden in the box itself!).
Choose eco-friendly shipping services.
If you do not need your boxes right away, choose ground shipping. Give your customers the option (and encourage them to take it!) for ground shipping.