Support from the Energy Innovation and Collaboration team at the University of Nottingham, through 'Energy for Business', helps Hallmark plan to meet environmental goals.


Hallmark Consumer Services is an e-commerce logistics company based in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. The company receives and stores a wide range of goods sent from manufacturers from around the world. When a customer orders from a clients’ web site, orders are fulfilled by Hallmark.

Items are collated into batches, picked from the warehouse, then taken to be packed in packaging selected by the client. They are then loaded into lorries and taken to centralised hubs from where they are distributed by next day van delivery.



Hallmark’s clients choose packaging options based on cost and fitness for purpose. Common packaging options selected are cardboard boxes and flexible plastic packaging. Hallmark wanted to be able to advise clients on the environmental impact of each type of packaging, allowing them to make a more informed choice.

Chris Hall, Chief Executive and founder of the company, heard about the University of Nottingham’s ‘Energy for Business’ support delivered by the Energy Innovation and Collaboration team. He met with Business Development Officer, Tim Saunders, to discuss the support available for analysing the carbon footprint associated with different types of packaging..


Dr Gulcan Serdaroglu, a technical officer in the Energy Innovation and Collaboration team, was assigned to the project. Gulcan conducted an extensive review of the life cycle and environmental impact of paper and plastic packaging materials and recent trends in sustainable packaging.

The review produced some surprising findings; including that, with a recycling rate of over 80%, corrugated cardboard has the highest recycling rate of any packaging, whereas only 4 % of flexible plastic packaging is being currently recycled in the UK. However, Gulcan also found that the manufacturing of paper and cardboard is an energy-intensive process that often uses more water and generates more water effluent than the plastic manufacturing process, and that the positive effect of an increase of recycling of plastic packaging on the environment could be more significant than that of paper-based packaging, due to reduced emissions associated with the sourcing and processing of fossil-based raw materials, less energy use, and reduced waste incineration.

A check of the paper and cardboard packing revealed that, on average, it is made from 75% recycled fibres, based on information provided by suppliers. Gulcan recommended that other products be explored, as paper and cardboard products with up to 100% recycled content are available that could reduce environmental impact.

Most of the plastic packaging used is manufactured from conventional low-density polyethylene. A lack of supplier information suggested it is unlikely to contain any recycled plastic. Bio-based polythene mailing bags with a high renewable content could be considered. These are not biodegradable but can be recycled. They are made from renewable sources so offer a more sustainable solution with a lower carbon footprint compared to conventional polythene. Fully compostable plastic mailing bags are also an option that could be offered to clients.

Paper and cardboard packaging tends to be heavier and bulkier than flexible plastic packaging. Most of the carbon footprint comes from sourcing material and manufacture, therefore increased weight results in a greater environmental impact. For example, a small cardboard box can weigh up to 100g, whereas an equivalent plastic envelope could weigh as little as 2g. Government figures suggest that the cardboard option results in 15 times the greenhouse gas emissions of plastic. Greater packaging volume and weight also leads to increased fuel consumption and the emissions associated with shipping.

Fit-to-size automated cardboard packaging solutions could help reduce the paper or bubble wrap used to fill empty spaces and reduce the size of packaging, with an associated reduction in emissions resulting from shipping.

Gulcan identified that the UK government intends to make all plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025 and to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042. Standards are also being developed for bio-based, biodegradable, and compostable plastics.

When considered overall, the analysis revealed a complex picture, that may also change as new legislation comes into force. This could lead to the introduction of innovative and sustainable solutions in plastic, cardboard, paper, and other materials, so it is key to stay abreast of the latest developments.

Chris Hall commented, “I’ve now had time to read your report properly and it’s just what we wanted to know. Thank you so much, your efforts have increased our understanding in this very complex area which we look forward to discussing with our clients. We will look further at making boxes to fit and keep up to date with the latest packaging innovations.”


The information provided has given a clear picture of the environmental impact of each packaging option. This can be used to inform clients and provides evidence to support strategic decision making. Hallmark can plan ahead as the UK implements new legislation in regard to packaging and be seen as an early adopter of the most sustainable packaging solutions, giving them great ethical credentials.


Hallmark received support from the University as part of Energy for Business. Delivered by the Energy Innovation and Collaboration team and funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Contact the Energy Innovation and Collaboration team for an informal chat about the support on offer.

Phone: +44 (0) 115 7484969