People around the world are learning the hard way how completely dependent we all are upon reliable supply chains to keep our economy — and our lifestyles — running. In the shadow of quarantines and social distancing guidelines, consumers have had to rely more than ever on ecommerce to deliver necessities. Dramatic spikes in online shopping have strained existing delivery systems’ ability to keep up with demand.

Product shortages have cropped up in stores and online retail sites as well as in the critical infrastructure of our healthcare systems, practically overnight. This jarring experience draws attention to the complexity and interconnectedness of supply chain logistics that power successful commerce. The huge, coordinated effort of providing products to the people who need them takes place behind the scenes, largely unnoticed by consumers until now.

The corrugated industry produces boxes that are used to transport products to stores, e-retail warehouses, businesses and households every day. Without boxes, the supply chain would grind to a halt. That’s why the industry is classified as an “essential business,” allowing corrugated box manufacturers to operate and continue producing the shipping containers that are needed to support the economy’s infrastructure, even during a pandemic.

Package Safety

The box industry conducts regular studies to quantify the ability of pathogens to survive on a corrugated surface and make sure that boxes are safe for moving fresh produce from farms to stores without transferring bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Boxes get used once and are then recovered for recycling into new boxes, which leaves no opportunity for a transfer of any existing organisms. Studies have consistently found that the heat-intensive process used to recycle old corrugated containers (OCC) kills any bacteria that may have come into contact with the box while it was in use.

As for boxes arriving on doorsteps during the COVID-19 crisis, the MIT Technology Review and ABC News both reported tests showing the coronavirus can live on a cardboard box for about 24 hours, and up to a few days on metal and plastic surfaces. But for now, the World Health Organization advises the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.

Recycle to Close the Loop

More ecommerce means more boxes being delivered to consumers’ homes. We need to redouble our efforts to recover those boxes in the recycling stream so they can be used to make new boxes. Most U.S. households have access to recycling programs that accept cardboard along with other recyclable materials, mixed or separated, often at curbside. Recycling the boxes provides a valuable feedstock for manufacturing new ones, in addition to diverting waste from landfills and helping the environment.

Working Together

Logistics professionals have been advancing supply chain technologies, traceability, inventory and forecasting for stakeholders all along, flexing and evolving their systems to meet changing demands and challenges. Problem solving and innovation are an everyday part of the job as industries work to improve efficiency and provide the best customer experiences possible.

The 1,183 box plants making corrugated boxes in the U.S. are committed to support the industries that depend on safe, reliable, economical and sustainable shipping containers to move their products — no matter what.