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Moving equipment: A history of cardboard

Cardboard boxes are essential when it comes to moving.

Cardboard boxes are essential when it comes to moving.

When you're getting ready for a move, you'll want to make sure you have the best packing materials available. Tape, bubble wrap, newspapers and packing peanuts are all important, but they're nothing without the mighty cardboard box.

Cardboard is a staple in our day-to-day lives. From the hardcover books we read to the boxes carrying the pizza we eat, cardboard helps make life easier. Could you imagine a world without cardboard? A world without baseball cards or life-sized celebrity cutouts, without backyard club houses made from old refrigerator packaging or evenings with the family gathered together solving jigsaw puzzles? Yes, a world without cardboard would be a bleak one, indeed.

The process to make cardboard was discovered in 1884 by Swedish chemist Carl F. Dahl. He found that paper pulp could be made in such a way to create a tough paper that would be resistant to tearing or bursting. He named his discovery "kraft paper," and it forms the basis of the cardboard we use to this very day.

There are many different kinds of cardboard. Graphic cardboard is used primarily for book covers and binders. It is made by compressing several layers of kraft paper together with an adhesive until it is thick and sturdy. Carton board, meanwhile, is thinner and smoother. This type of cardboard can be found in packaging for most commercial products, like cereals or games.

If you're planning a move, you may be familiar with one of the sturdiest, most versatile forms of cardboard: corrugated cardboard.

Corrugated cardboard is everywhere. So much corrugated cardboard is produced each year, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates as much as 31.4 million tons of it are discarded each year. Fortunately, it is easily recyclable, and as much as 77 percent of discarded corrugated cardboard was recycled in 2008, according to the EPA.

Corrugated cardboard is made by crimping layers of kraft paper into a repeating "s" shape. This wavy material is called the "corrugating medium," according to TAPPI, the technical association of the pulp and paper industry. More layers of kraft paper, called "liners," are then glued to the corrugating medium. The liners can be standard brown, or can be colored and decorated to create eye-catching boxes.

Many companies are still using fast-growing pine trees to get the bulk of their raw cardboard-making materials, but as the world grows more environmentally conscious, recycled cardboard is being added to the mix in ever-increasing amounts. One day, new cardboard will be made entirely with recycled cardboard - a concept that's truly "out of the box."