While Amazon sales hit records high, the pile of its cardboard boxes is getting taller day by day. The e-commerce company saw a gain of 47% year on year for the second quarter of 2020. The demand for household products sharply increased during the pandemic, leading to huge stacks of cardboards in trash.
According to a new Bloomberg report detailed how the price of old corrugated cardboard (OCC) in the recycling industry lingo for salvageable material that can be pulled from one of these Amazon boxes has doubled over the past year. Another report says that the national average price for corrugated containers moved up 14% in January 2021 to $75 per ton, compared with $66 per ton in December 2020. The OCC grade was trading for about $25 per ton one year ago.
The term ‘cardboard’ refers to post-use corrugated packaging material. Industry insiders know this product as Old Corrugated Cardboard/Containers (OCC). Corrugated cardboard can be recognised by its multiple layered structure. The wavy middle layer between the sheets of paper keeps corrugated board light and also gives it the strength it needs to carry products. Cardboard is a very useful packaging material.
When the demand for cardboard boxes increases as rapidly as it did during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it puts pressure on packaging manufacturers to put out more products, that too as fast as possible. The surge in demand wasn’t met with a similar surge in supply. Resource Recycling reported last year that during the initial height of the pandemic in the US around late March through April, recovered paper collection dropped between 30% and 50%. The production end of this supply chain now needed to do way more with way less recycled cardboard. It led to a price hike that will continue to increase until recovery and recycle rates catch up with this newfound demand.
The restrictions imposed by China on foreign scrap imports have dampened markets for recycled content, and OCC is one of the categories impacted. The United States recycling system is absolutely inefficient and was earlier dependent on China for recycling. As a result, the route of recycling has either diverted loads of mixed paper and plastic to other Asian countries or sent them to landfills and incinerators.
One out of three boxes that were delivered to people’s doorsteps during the pandemic were of Amazon. It isn’t the only company responsible for the box piles; there are other e-commerce companies that have a fair share in trash. The countries need to come up with a proper recycling system. The e-commerce companies should also take some responsibility to reduce the waste. Big companies can also switch to something more sustainable in terms of packaging.