How to Recycle Corrugated & Cardboard Boxes

Many of us learned the importance of recycling at a young age, but it can be difficult to know if we’re doing it correctly.

With rules and regulations set by state, county, and even town or city, knowing what can and cannot be recycled can be a challenge. It’s always best to check your local recycling guidelines, but we hope to give you a better understanding of cardboard box recycling.

What Type of Cardboard Can Be Recycled?

Most cardboard materials can be recycled as long as they meet the following guidelines:

  • All non-paper materials, like plastic bags, plastic windows, Styrofoam, and bubble wrap are removed
  • Any leftover food materials are removed, and any food-stained cardboard is cut out of the box. For example, pizza boxes may be recycled as long as they are not heavily stained with grease.
  • The cardboard box should not be wet as this weakens the cardboard fibers. Saturated fibers make the material less useful to recycling centers and makes it heavier and harder to transport.

It is also recommended to break down, or flatten, the empty corrugated cardboard as many municipalities require recyclables to fit inside your recycling bin.

How Do I Know if the Cardboard Box is Acceptable for Recycling?

Checking the rules and regulations on cardboard recycling in your area is the most effective way to determine acceptable cardboard boxes for recycling.

As a general rule, most cardboard packaging and shipping boxes are recyclable, as long as the package is clean and free of plastic and other non-recyclables.

Acceptable recyclable packaging materials include food packaging like cereal and pasta boxes, shoe boxes, and corrugated shipping boxes. This includes white corrugated mail packaging as well.

Wax coated boxes like milk cartons, juice boxes, and other printed items will have the triangular recycling symbol on them if they are recyclable. Some materials may include special directions for recycling, like rinsing and removing the cap from the carton before recycling.

Why is it Important to Recycle Cardboard Boxes?

It’s important to recycle packaging materials like carboard boxes because it conserves energy and natural resources while also cutting down on pollution. Manufacturing the pulp used in cardboard creates sulfur dioxide — a gas that can cause acid rain.

Cardboard materials can be recycled up to seven times before the fibers are no longer usable. One ton of recycled cardboard can save upwards of 17 trees.

The trees saved through recycling help cut down on CO2.

Recycling corrugated boxes and other cardboard materials offers financial benefits in addition to environmental benefits, like:

  • Since roughly 24.1 million tons of corrugated cardboard is discarded each year, we can eliminate 9 cubic yards of landfill space for every ton we recycle. This means that worldwide, cardboard would take up 216.9 million cubic yards of landfill space each year if it were not recycled.
  • Manufacturing 1 ton of non-recycled cardboard requires 3 tons of trees.
  • Through recycling and keeping cardboard out of landfills, the cardboard industry reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 35% between 2006 and 2014.

How Can Businesses Create a Cardboard Recycling Plan?

Many businesses handle so much cardboard each week that it can be hard to create a streamlined recycling process. Here are our tips for managing cardboard recycling for your business:

Create a process for recycling that all members of your team are expected to follow

This should include what gets recycled, where recyclables should be stored, when recycling gets picked up, and who is responsible to get recycling into the right places

The fewer questions your team has about your recycling process, the more items will be recycled

Designate a location in your office for recycling

Whether it’s a bin, a corner, or a whole room, ensure all cardboard (and other) recycling goes to the same place to make it as easy as possible to collect and keep track of

Recruit volunteers

Ask members of your team to take turns being responsible for getting the recycling out to be picked up on pickup days

Consider non-packaging recycling needs

If you’ve got a large volume of cardboard recycling, finding ways to decrease your overall consumption of recyclable materials is a great way to get your recycling in check. Consider eliminating things like paper coffee cups, encouraging your team to print fewer documents, using online billing and statements when possible, and using rechargeable batteries.

Recycling Cardboard is Always Worth the Effort

One of the reasons we love cardboard is how easy it is to recycle.

Whether you’re a business looking to manage a large volume of boxes, or just someone looking to make an impact, recycling cardboard is one of the easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint. And we can all do it.