Cookers, bikes, beds, tents, a school club, computers, vacuum cleaners, coat hangers – they are part of a growing range of new applications for cardboard, old and new. A combination of trends is enabling this growth: consumer expectations to reduce and reuse packaging continue to rise; new processes are enabling more effective cleaning of paper for re-use; emerging nations are focusing on frugal innovation and new products to support growing aspirations and local markets.

What is changing?

In recent years a growing number of prototype products have been developed and some have even appeared on the market, which use cardboard in unexpected applications.

Makers of solar powered stove, which can be ‘carried and then unfolded’ in situ, won a prize of $75,000 to develop it further. An Israeli designer recently demonstrated his prototype cardboard bicycle, the structure of which uses an ‘origami’ approach to creating sufficient strength in the frame. The 10,000 or so tents which get abandoned at the end of festivals in the UK inspired the development of MyHab, a disposable cardboard festival tent instead. And there are others such as a camera from Ikea and a vacuum cleaner from Vax.

Why is this important?

In 2006, the world produced 365 million tons of cardboard…

In 2006, the world produced 365 million tons of cardboard, and cardboard continues to be one of the main packaging materials. While recycling and reuse are both growing, there is still room for improvement. Increasing landfill taxes and other costs, legislation and rising consumer expectations are all driving a greater corporate focus on sustainability; having a range of applications for reusing waste packaging could encourage companies to reuse instead of dispose, and simultaneously improve their sustainability and recycling credentials. General Motors for example, now has 76 factories which send no waste to landfill, as the result of a strategic focus on sustainability.

Low cost products which use innovative design, lightweight and cheap materials, are also likely to sell well in emerging economies where consumers have rising expectations but still very little disposable income.

Recycling and reusing cardboard will also encourage and be enabled by new processes. For example, a new ‘de-inking process’ means that graphic quality paper can be used time and again.  The same could apply to cleaning cardboard before reuse as a raw material for other production processes.

Cardboard may be diversifying from just packaging material of choice, to raw material of choice in a growing range of products.

By Sheila Moorcroft

About the author

Sheila has over 20 years experience helping clients capitalise on change – identifying changes in their business environment, assessing the implications and responding effectively to them. As Research Director at Shaping Tomorrow she has completed many futures projects on topics as diverse as health care, telecommunications, innovation management, and premium products for clients in the public and private sectors. Sheila also writes a weekly Trend Alert to highlight changes that might affect a wide range of organisations.