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Cardboard demand needs smarter design

Over the past year or so we have seen a huge shift in how we shop. Covid 19 has created many challenges for businesses as we all know, and many have had to rethink how they market and deliver their products to their customers to help survive the pandemic.

Due to Covid and the usual annual event days such as Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day among the many, cardboard is in high demand. Online retail has rocketed and with it the demand for cardboard packaging to help deliver items to consumers. 

One of the many problems with such things is when products are frequently shipped in disproportionately large cardboard boxes. Where this cannot be helped due to shipping methods and maintaining a level of quality to meet customer demand, the abundance of cardboard wasted is often unnecessary and annoying to many consumers. This poses another problem to the seller – maintaining brand loyalty.

As well as being light, easy to rip up and cheap, cardboard has sustainable advantages. It contains a high percentage of recycled material – sometimes up to 80% and is easy to recycle on the consumer side again. 

However, with reports of both a cardboard shortage and rising prices for the material, there is a clear problem arising. Online shopping isn’t going away, so the need for more sustainable and renewable methods and smarter design ideas is paramount.

Part of cardboard’s rising popularity is down to customer perception. People view cardboard as automatically more sustainable than a material like plastic, which is not always true. Recently some supermarkets replaced cardboard egg boxes with plastic alternatives. And while reports have indicated that PET plastic boxes are more sustainable than paper ones, shops have since announced they would switch back to cardboard when possible to suit customer behaviour.

Glass milk bottles are often thought as being more sustainable than plastic, but a glass milk bottle has to be reused around 19 times to offset its emissions and they usually break or are discarded long before this.

Despite this complication, the shortage has been helpful for innovation: Graspap, a paper fibre made from grass uses about 75% less carbon dioxide than virgin wood pulp and crucially is a renewable source and can grow in a lot of different landscapes.

It’s clear that clever design and thoughtful methods on how to package and deliver products can help make a real difference. Considering the packaging as a whole could be a helpful cost-cutting method for brands. The initial outlay of costs for designing and developing a bespoke piece of packaging may well be worth it in the long run to engage consumers and build brand loyalty but also to minimise the impact on the planet.

Direct-to-consumer business models will continue to grow, and this creates a huge challenge and a huge opportunity. At the moment, packaging is being designed for the retail shelf primarily and then packaged for shipping. Once you take out the fact that it’s sold in a store, it creates real opportunity to consider things differently.

Brands will need to consider how the two ‘shelf’ and ‘shipping’ factors meet, without conflicting or diluting each other. Businesses need to tie in packaging design and their branding with a wholistic approach. Crucially, packaging has to tell a relevant story. This may stem from developing the packaging from alternative materials or methods than just cardboard. For example, creating a solution from the by-products of their process, brands can add a narrative into how they think and act about their products and the planet with their consumers. 

Telling a cohesive tale to their customers about how and why they’ve addressing these issues leads to another reason for consumer to connect and engage with their brand, building loyalty whilst protecting the planet.

Cardboard isn’t going anywhere and nor should it, but how we use and implement it into our everyday needs is crucial – and good design and smarter thinking will help us get there.

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