Image of mass produced sandwiches
Dufaylite thermal box with completed 2 piece insert

Changing the Way We Think About Paper Honeycomb

Paper honeycomb is one of those rare materials that’s almost endlessly adaptable, while requiring a really minimal environmental impact. It’s made from recycled paper and can itself be completely recycled, so it can be used for a huge range of applications.

We’ve been making innovations with paper honeycomb for over 65 years now, from aeroplane components to lightweight furniture, and we think it’s time to start changing the way that we think about paper honeycomb.

How is paper honeycomb currently used?

Primarily, paper honeycomb’s main application tends to be for packaging and retail signage, because it’s in these applications where it truly shines. With retail signage, the fact that it’s easy to print on sheets like our Ultra Board means you have complete creative freedom. The results look amazing and, in many cases, you wouldn’t even know that the core is a completely sustainable, paper product.

Some real upsides to this are that the boards are easy to produce at scale, they save significant costs on shipping weight (because they’re so lightweight), and their rigidity makes them much more durable and versatile than corrugated card solutions.

With packaging applications, paper honeycomb helps to create super reliable, naturally insulated delivery boxes that are much stronger than traditional cardboard boxes – but it also helps to protect products themselves with custom-cut packaging that helps contents fit perfectly.

So what needs to change?

At the moment, honeycomb-based solutions for signage or packaging tend to be reserved for niche, often luxury items. This is certainly a win-win for customers of those goods – in the sense that their products get better protection, and they’re not forced to send non-biodegradable material to landfill. But we think this needs to change most.

When you consider how much plastic is removed from the waste cycle when paper-based packaging solutions are used, these paper-based solutions should actually be the default packaging choice for all but the most niche & demanding of products.

In 2021, for example, the UK produced an astounding 2.5 million metric tons of plastic packaging waste – that’s a number for packaging waste. In total, just over 3.6 million tons of plastic is generated in the UK each year and only about 40% of that is captured & recycled. But, without getting too political here, this number that’s given as the amount plastic “recycled” each year isn’t necessarily actually recycled – it’s simply a number given for how much material has been passed for recycling elsewhere.

This “elsewhere” is often a dump in a foreign country where the material isn’t recycled at all, but is instead left to degrade in open air. In essence, the number given for “how much is recycled” should actually be seen as a figure for how much responsibility & consequence has been shifted somewhere else. After all, most of the people who live near the eventual dumping grounds of this waste won’t benefit financially from the awarded contracts, but will suffer with the environmental impacts of heavily contaminated soil and devastated local ecosystems.

What’s more, we all suffer from letting plastic and the valuable resources locked up in it leave the materials cycle – it forces us to rely more on new sources of fossil fuels, and is a significant contributor to global climate change.

In an ideal world, plastic is created for the few purposes it’s best suited to - and is then entirely recycled, so we don’t have to keep generating more.

Let’s not pass the buck

Switching to a paper-based default for packaging is therefore an excellent way to remove the potential for authorities passing the buck while hoodwinking us. Even if 100% of a paper-honeycomb packaging box is thrown in the street, it’ll biodegrade harmlessly before long.

Now, most people at this point question how many packaging problems can actually be solved with paper-based solutions – in the case of food packaging, for example, how much soup can a paper honeycomb box hold?

Well, clearly the paper on its own isn’t going to be especially effective for protecting and storing food – but there are two solutions here:

  1. We should encourage greater local production of goods like pre-made sandwiches – so people don’t have to purchase them in packaging
  2. The laminated films found in food & drink cartons or boxes don’t need to be plastic-based

Cellulose-based films are already gaining traction for applications in the food & beverage industry, simply because they won’t contaminate food, and they completely bypass the problem of current paper-based food packaging. Namely, the problem is that it’s extremely difficult to separate plastic-based films from paper for recycling them.

Let’s talk about paper honeycomb

We’re passionate about our paper honeycomb solutions and even more passionate about sustainability – if you have any questions or you’d like to discuss a potential application, let’s talk!

2nd January 2024