The power of corrugate: strength and sustainability

As consumers demand less plastic packaging, UK supermarkets a researching for sustainable alternatives. One material stands out from the rest.

Packaging accounts for 40 per cent of the plastic produced in the EU, totalling over 20 million tonnes a year. In the UK, nearly 70 per cent of all plastic waste is packaging. Despite best efforts to recycle, over eight million tonnes of plastic still makes its way into oceans globally each year. Too much of the rest still goes to landfill.

However, one area where an immediate difference can be made is in the supermarket aisle, where there are easily replaceable alternatives for much of the plastic packaging currently on shelves. With 75% of consumers admitting that the environmental impact of a product’s packaging affects their purchasing decision, this is an obvious place to start.

Yet there is no silver bullet to solve the plastic problem in the food and drink supply chain. Any alternative must meet the same needs, including shelf life, stability across temperatures, and food safety, while also meeting expectations of sustainability – ease of reuse or recycle, reduced carbon emissions and avoiding other forms of waste and pollution.

One material that stands out is corrugate. Made from natural fibres, which can be recycled over seven times, corrugated cardboard packaging contains on average 68 per cent recycled material. Due to consumer understanding and a strong recycling infrastructure, the end of life recycling rate of paper and cardboard packaging in the EU is double that of plastic packaging (85 per cent vs. 42 per cent).

Waitrose & Partners is one retailer that has made a switch to corrugate. Seeking a sustainable alternative for its Duchy Organic and Waitrose 1 Sable grape punnets, it turned to corrugate packaging manufacturer DS Smith and fruit supplier Primafruit. By exchanging the previous plastic punnet for a cardboard version, it is predicted that Waitrose & Partners will eliminate 12 tonnes of plastic packaging a year.


In addition, the lightweight but strong material makes transporting the punnets more manageable and decreases pack time, ensuring that efficiencies are gained throughout the supply chain. DS Smith estimates that up to 10 per cent efficiency improvements on production lines are possible by using corrugate.

Another major benefit of corrugate is a natural aesthetic and increased printability. In a recent study, the French corrugated trade body Cartin Ondulé De France found that the number of customers buying fruit and vegetables increases by up to 16% when they are presented in corrugated trays rather than on stainless steel shelves or in plastic containers.

Morrisons is also looking to remove plastic from its shelves and Farmers Boy (Morrisons manufacturing) worked with DS Smith to improve its Retail Ready Packaging (RRP) for the re-launch of its Best Bacon product. Utilising DS Smith’s innovative Optishop Fin, the collaborative project resulted in a first-to-market 100 per cent fibre-based corrugate RRP solution.

RRP is traditionally designed to be viewed face on. In contrast, this design has asymmetrical sides so branding can be seen well in advance of reaching the product, giving it additional call out and visual appeal. A fold over section also provides an inside print opportunity, to ensure that the on-shelf packaging aligns with the primary pack’s look and feel.

Replacing plastic with corrugate offers brands the opportunity to both enhance their sustainability credentials and meet customers’ expectations, while also differentiating themselves from the competition by using innovative and engaging packaging solutions.


  • WRAP the UK plastic Pact
  • Plastic Waste and Recycling in the EU: Facts and Figures, December 2018
  • European Consumer Packaging Perceptions study–ProCarton2018 & Mintel, 2018
  • Transforming the supermarket aisle: How to replace problem plastic today, a report by DS Smith and Whitespace, 2019
  • Survey 2018 Carton Onduléde France