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The Story of Your Cardboard, Part I.

If you're reading this, there's a good chance you have some cardboard near you on a daily basis. It could be in your house, at the market where you buy your food, or in your workplace. Do you know how that cardboard got to you? After all, it did start it's life as a tree in a forest somewhere. If you want to take an even more interesting journey, hold this possibility in your mind as you read this. According to research with a handful of forestry and wood professionals, your cardboard starts out in a class of tree known as "soft" woods or woods which have a longer fiber length. Generally, these trees take an average of 50-70 years to grow. That could be length of your life time. For Hawaii, Canada is likely the nearest source of raw lumber and derivative products. Now, as the birds are singing in the forest, the trees are marked and harvested. Sometimes by humans using ropes, chainsaws and chains; sometimes by sophisticated machinery. As the fallen trees are dragged across the forest floor, they enter the world of humans. They pass through industrial infrastructure like sawmill and pulp factories, transported by various kinds of trucks, trains and ships, as they are cut, cleaned, heated and flattened into the paper which is glued together to create flat sheets of cardboard. Then they'll go to box makers, wholesalers, printers and more. The materials in your box pass through dozens of human hands, from Mennonite cutting crews in rural Canada to Polynesian port workers in Long Beach. Every step of the way, it costs someone a little energy, a little time, some money and more to move it along it's way. Every step of the way, carbon emissions spiral out from the fuel burned to run the trucks, power the mills, move the trains and keep the lights on.


Eventually, it'll reach a warehouse where someone will place something inside of that box, one of the hundreds they'll touch in their shift and it'll go on a boat or a plane and end up at a harbor in Hawaii. From there, it will end up your house. You'll open the box and, maybe, tear the flap in your excitement or haste. And then, after decades of growth, thousands of miles of travel and the touch of dozens of human hands, the purpose for that box ends in about 10-15 seconds. There's very little way to know exactly what it costs to get one box through a system like this. We can't say how much water it takes to pulp the fiber or how much gas it burns between Long Beach and Honolulu. We put a dollar into the black box of the global logistics and manufacturing sphere, it shudders an imperceptible amount and a box of goods pops out the other end. All the costs are often hidden to us. It's time we started pulling back the curtain.



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