Everywhere you look, people are talking about ChatGPT. From social media forums and mainstream TV news to Fortune magazine, it’s everywhere. Much of the talk is about whether ChatGPT will replace human writers (it won’t). However, much less talk is about using it as a research tool.

ChatGPT can do something that no human being can. In a second or two, it can do a deep scan of the Internet for information and ideas. It scans, not just the top-ranked content as a Google search would, but if pushed, gets down in the deep crevasses of long-forgotten content, too. If you’re stumped, or just looking for an alternate perspective, ChatGPT can be quite helpful.

Since WhatTheyThink has been discussing the issue of the paper shortage in recent months, we decided to apply the omniscience of ChatGPT to the topic. What happens if we ask ChatGPT what alternative substrates are available when traditional stocks are not? We wanted to know what ChatGPT would come up with both in the commercial realm and the packaging realm.

When asked about paper alternatives for commercial printing and packaging, here’s what ChatGPT output. Because multiple ChatGPT queries were run and combined for this report, the output was lightly edited for editorial smoothness but not altered in its substance.

Alternatives When Commercial Stock Is Not Available

When customers’ favorite stock is not available for commercial printing applications, ChatGPT suggested the following:

  1. Alternative stocks: Consider using a similar paper stock with similar characteristics to the original. For example, if customers’ preferred paper is out of stock, they may want to consider using a paper stock with a similar weight, texture, or finish.
  2. Synthetic papers: Synthetic papers are made from polypropylene or polyester and offer a durable, water-resistant alternative to traditional paper. These materials can be used for a wide range of printing applications, including brochures, posters, and labels.
  3. Recycled papers such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET): PET is a more durable alternative to paper and is more available. PET can be used for items such as business cards, postcards, and packaging materials.
  4. Heavier weight stock: Heavier weight stocks, such as card stock, can be an option, as well. Like traditional stocks, card stock is available in a variety of weights, textures, and colors, so customers can choose the option that best meets their needs.
  5. Coated paper alternatives: If the customer typically uses coated paper, they may want to consider using uncoated paper as an alternative. Uncoated paper has a natural, matte finish and can provide a unique look and feel to printed materials.
  6. Bamboo paper: Bamboo paper is made from the fast-growing bamboo plant and is more sustainable than traditional tree-based paper. Bamboo paper has a similar feel and look to traditional paper, making it a great alternative for printing brochures, flyers, and other marketing materials.
  7. Cornstarch-based materials: Cornstarch-based materials, such as polylactic acid (PLA), are biodegradable and offer a more sustainable alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastics, as well. They can be used for a variety of printing applications, including packaging, food service products, and promotional items.
  8. Textiles: Textiles, such as canvas or polyester, can also be used for printing applications. These materials offer a more durable alternative to paper and can be used for items such as banners, flags, and trade show displays.
  9. Stone paper: Stone paper is made from calcium carbonate and is both waterproof and tear-resistant. It can be used for items such as business cards, brochures, and posters.
  10. Kraft paper: Kraft paper is a durable, biodegradable alternative to traditional paper that is made from 100% recycled materials. It can be used for a variety of printing applications, including envelopes, bags, and promotional items.
  11. Cork paper: Cork paper is made from the bark of the cork oak tree and is both durable and biodegradable. It can be used for items such as coasters, note pads, and greeting cards.

These are some interesting answers, and clearly, there is some inaccuracy or lack of nuance in some of them. For example, PET is 100% recyclable but is not always made from recycled material as the original output (“recycled plastics such as PET”) implied. Likewise, while it is technically true that coated paper can be replaced with uncoated paper, we know that this would also require a significant design change to prevent the output from looking muddy. This is a nuance that ChatGPT was unable to recognize. Other lacks of nuance: bamboo paper should be noted as useful for short-run applications, not all applications, and cornstarch-based materials aren’t replacements for commercial printing papers, as requested. ChatGPT also came up with some suggestions that needed to be tossed entirely, such as “digital printing” and “sustainable options…such as FSC paper.”

These examples illustrate why AI writing assistants, no matter how good, still require a competent human author behind them.

Alternatives When Packaging Stock Is Not Available

What about in the packaging market? What are some of the alternatives your customers can explore?

According to ChatGPT, some alternative substrate options include:

  1. Recycled plastic: Recycled plastic substrates, such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), are a more durable alternative to paper-based packaging. These materials can be used for items such as food packaging, beverage containers, and shipping boxes.
  2. Textiles: Textiles, such as canvas or burlap, can also be used for packaging applications. These materials offer a more durable alternative to paper-based materials and can be used for items such as wine bags, gift baskets, and promotional totes.
  3. Cardboard: Cardboard is a renewable and biodegradable alternative to traditional paper-based packaging materials. It can be used for items such as shipping boxes, product packaging, and retail displays.
  4. Biodegradable film: Biodegradable film is a type of plastic film made from plant-based materials such as cornstarch, potato starch, or sugarcane. It is biodegradable and compostable, making it an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastic films.
  5. Edible packaging: Edible packaging is a unique and innovative option for packaging food products. It is made from edible materials such as seaweed, fruit, or vegetables, and can be consumed along with the product it is used to package.
  6. Glass or metal containers: For products that require airtight or leak-proof packaging, customers can consider using glass or metal containers. These materials are reusable, recyclable, and can provide a premium look and feel.
  7. Mushroom packaging: Mushroom packaging, also known as mycelium packaging, is a biodegradable alternative to traditional plastic packaging. It is made from agricultural waste and mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, and can be molded into various shapes and sizes.
  8. Bioplastics: Bioplastics are made from renewable resources such as corn starch, sugarcane, or potato starch. They are biodegradable and compostable, making them a sustainable alternative to traditional plastics. These materials can be used for a variety of packaging applications, including food service products, retail packaging, and promotional items.
  9. Air pillows: Air pillows are a lightweight and cost-effective option for cushioning and protecting products during shipping. They are made from recyclable materials and can be reused multiple times.
  10. Foam alternatives: Traditional foam packaging materials, such as expanded polystyrene (EPS), can be replaced with alternatives such as molded pulp, corrugated cardboard, or even air-cushioned films.
  11. Reusable containers: Instead of using disposable packaging materials, customers can consider using reusable containers for their products. This option is more environmentally friendly and can also be a cost-effective solution in the long run.

How do you feel about these lists? Clearly, there are some inaccuracies in them, and not all of these alternatives will be one-to-one replacements for your customers’ favorite commercial printing paper or packaging substrate. However, some of these suggestions can certainly get the creativity flowing and spark conversations—and this is one of the benefits of ChatGPT that is less often discussed.

Did anything on these lists strike you as something you might not have thought of on your own and might like to try? Leave a comment!