Automated Packing: Plastic Bags vs Cardboard Boxes

On 30th January 2018, Theresa May announced the government’s plan to end avoidable plastic waste being used and generated in the UK. Following May’s announcement, along with our growing environmental moral conscience, we’re starting to see the impact of companies looking for alternatives to shipping their goods in plastic bags.

Products purchased online are typically placed inside a transparent plastic bag to protect them throughout the storage and picking process.  A barcode is generally placed on the outside of that bag so warehouse systems can identify what the product is. When an order is placed for that product, it is processed through an automated bagging line and the whole order is then bagged for shipment. There is an argument that the utilisation of ‘single use’ plastic here is unnecessary and the government want to eradicate it.

Only 44.9% of plastic packaging waste is recycled in the UK, whereas 81.9% of cardboard is recycled here in the UK. Using cardboard packaging could be a great solution to help keep our environment cleaner. Although a number of sources argue that reusable plastics are more carbon friendly than cardboard, single use plastics are causing great damage to our environment due to plastic taking over 450 years to fully decompose for only one use, resulting in over 8 million metric tons of plastic ending up in the oceans and over 50% ending up in landfills.

This article will take a further look into cardboard boxes as an alternative packaging method and how this will impact our logistics companies’ throughputs and profit margins.


Cardboard boxes in your warehouse


  • Cardboard offers better protection for products that are being shipped which helps to keep damaged goods to a minimum and can help to reduce return rates on fragile products.
  • Cardboard boxes are much easier to convey as they’re suitable for roller conveyor which is a less costly alternative to belt conveyor.
  • Cardboard boxes offer a more professional finish to your brand, giving customers a better customer experience (i.e. Amazon’s frustration free packaging approach)
  • Market leading box sealing suppliers can provide automated box sealing machinery that can pack your cardboard boxes up to a rate of 900 boxes an hour per machine.  When you compare this to the market leading automated bagging machine suppliers, which provide solutions that can pack up to 1,200 orders an hour per machine, the rates are not too dissimilar.



  • Plastic bagging machines are much more adaptable to different lengths and widths of product, whereas most cost comparative box sealers require the box dimensions to be predetermined and cannot be easily altered.  That said, there are auto box solutions available that can generate custom fitted boxes around each of your orders. These premium box solutions can be an issue for SME’s with a small CAPEX. Although, finance is often available.
  • The final downside to automated cardboard solutions is the cost of the consumables. Plastic bagging consumables can cost as little as 10% of the cost of cardboard cases. This cost is often the reason companies decide to stay with bagging solutions when they don’t need some of the benefits of cardboard (i.e. when shipping apparel).



Plastic Bags have a much lower recyclability, less resilient to damage, harder to convey, sort and store.

Cardboard boxes are slower to automatically erect and seal, they have over double the initial investment requirement, and have a higher consumables cost per order.

Is your environment worth the cost? You decide.


About Conveyor Networks:

Daresbury-based Conveyor Networks is a systems integrator and solutions provider founded in 2009. Working from design and build through to servicing and maintenance, it offers retail and eCommerce businesses of all sizes, best-in-class warehouse software and automation solutions. It engineers imio software, its own modular warehouse management system and can run everything from conveyors and sortation to packing lines, fully automated processes and carrier integration.

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