All cardboard boxes are 100% recyclable, no matter what their condition. However, some specific rules and preparation are required for recycling.
The following sections will explain the importance of recycling cardboard boxes, how to prepare them for recycling, and provide insight into how they are recycled.
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How to Recycle Cardboard Boxes
Cardboard is designed to be recycled and reused, but this must be done correctly for cardboard to be sustainable. Here is the guide to help you prepare cardboard boxes for recycling.
1. Remove Packaging Materials
Remove any packing materials inside the cardboard box, such as packing peanuts or Styrofoam. Removing any labels and/or packing tape from the cardboard box is also recommended but not required.
If a product comes in a combination of plastic and cardboard, you will want to remove all the plastic and recycle it separately.
2. Collapse and Flatten Boxes
Once all the packaging materials and tape have been removed, it is time to flatten or break down your cardboard boxes. Don’t worry if they are ripped or not in perfect condition, which is unimportant.
Flattening your cardboard is essential because it conserves space within local or shared recycling bins and the collection vehicles used to pick up cardboard waste.
3. Check for Food-Soiled Parts
Removing any part of the cardboard with food-soiled stains is important. For example, if you have a pizza box, you must remove any part of the cardboard with oil stains, as they are not recyclable. Unfortunately, oil and grease damage the cardboard and prevent it from being recyclable.
4. Keep Cardboard Boxes Dry
When storing cardboard to prepare for recycling, it must be kept dry. Wet cardboard cannot be recycled because it manipulates the fibers, which makes it heavy and undesirable to paper mills and recycling facilities.
5. Ready to Recycle
The key to recycling cardboard boxes is that they need to be clean and dry. Once you’ve ensured that, then the materials are ready to be put out on the curb for pickup or taken to your local recycling company. Consult your local recycling guidelines to confirm that you are preparing your cardboard boxes properly.
Alternative Ways to Repurpose Cardboard Boxes:
Reuse Cardboard Boxes
- Use for storage purposes
- Use to ship packages
- Use to make toys for kids
Pass on Your Cardboard Boxes
- Give away to friends or family
- Give away to a moving company
- Give away to a small business
Ensuring that cardboard boxes are recycled is a critical aspect of the manufacturing process, as it saves time, money, and resources. Another advantage of cardboard boxes is that they are not only recyclable but also reusable and can be upcycled.
Why Reuse & Recycle Cardboard Boxes?
Cardboard boxes have several environmental benefits. They are 100% recyclable, reusable, and sustainable. Recycling reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and non-renewable resources, reduces pollution, and helps save trees.
1. Diverts Waste from Landfills
The recycling of cardboard boxes diverts waste from our landfills. For example, one tonne of recycled cardboard saves over 9 cubic yards of landfill space. This is important because landfills take up space, create pollution, and cost municipalities and taxpayers money.
2. Reduces the Need for Raw Materials
Recycling reduces the need for raw materials during the manufacturing process. For example, making one tonne of virgin cardboard requires 3 tonnes of trees.
Using recycled materials also requires 90% less water and 50% less energy than products made from virgin materials. In addition, recycling 1 tonne of cardboard saves 46 gallons of oil.
3. Reduces Pollution by 95%
Recycling cardboard boxes also reduces pollution by 95% because the fiber has already been manufactured and processed. Recycling takes 75% less energy than creating cardboard from raw materials.
Manufacturing recycled cardboard results in 50% less sulfur dioxide being emitted into the environment. This leads to less air pollution and fewer toxins released into the environment.
4. It can be Downcycled
The fibers from a corrugated cardboard box can be recycled up to 25 times, and once the cardboard has reached its limit, it can be downcycled into thinner cardboard called paperboard (e.g. cereal boxes).
5. Saves Resources & Fossil Fuels
Recycling cardboard saves precious resources (e.g., trees) and reduces dependence on non-renewable resources and fossil fuels (e.g., oil).
6. The Recycling Process Creates Jobs
The cardboard recycling process creates jobs within the green economy and encourages sustainable practices. Recycling and reusing materials help improve our quality of life and the environment.
Common Uses of Cardboard
Cardboard is industrially prefabricated boxes primarily used for packaging goods and materials. Cardboard is a strong, durable, recyclable material made from trees and glue.
The cardboard gained popularity because of its lightweight nature, easy handling, and environmental benefits. They are among the most popular materials used in the packaging and shipping industry.
Most cardboard in circulation is produced from, on average, 70% to 90% recycled materials. There are even some cardboard boxes in circulation that are made from 100% recycled materials.
Two main types of cardboard:
- Paperboard is thinner and lighter than corrugated cardboard as it is a single sheet of single or multi-ply cardboard.
- Paperboard is used to make things like cereal boxes, shoe boxes, juice containers, and milk cartons
- Paperboard can be bolstered with decorative elements, coatings, and specialty inks.
- Corrugated cardboard is more robust, thicker, and durable, with an extra layer of wavy fiber between each sheet.
- Corrugated cardboard consists of multiple layers of heavy paper.
- Corrugated cardboard is used for things like shipping, packing boxes, and furniture.
- Corrugated boxes keep contents safe against the elements (e.g., weather and handling) during shipping
Cardboard has become an increasingly popular material because of its strength, flexibility, and recycling properties. In the United States, around 100 billion of cardboard are manufactured annually, and over 95% of all products in the USA are shipped in cardboard boxes.
How are Cardboard Boxes Recycled:
Collect from Designated Collection Points
Cardboard boxes are collected from designated collection points (e.g., businesses or residential pickup). The cardboard is then taken to recycling facilities, where it is sorted by material type (e.g. corrugated or paperboard).
This step is important because different grades of materials are used in different ways. For example, when corrugated cardboard is recycled, the fibers get slightly shorter. That means the cardboard gets thinner each time it is recycled.
When the fibers become too thin to recycle into corrugated cardboard, they are downcycled and used to create paperboard.
Materials will be Sorted Out Appropriately
Once all the materials have been sorted appropriately, the cardboard undergoes shredding and pulping. Shredding breaks down the cardboard fibers into small pieces, which it is then mixed with water and chemicals to create a slurry substance.
The resulting substance is blended with new pulp to help it solidify and become firm. It then gets filtered to remove any foreign materials or impurities and gets cleaned thoroughly to prepare for the final processing.
The cardboard is 100% board. It usually gets mixed with foreign materials like tape, staples, or plastic packaging. That’s why it is important to filter it.
After Filtering the Pulp
It is ready to be stored and used to make new cardboard. The cleaned pulp is blended with new production materials and put to dry.
Various techniques are used to dry cardboard, including vacuum rollers, vibrating conveyor belts, and steam heating. This process results in the production of vast brown paper reels weighing several tonnes. It can then be cut to size and used to create cardboard boxes.
While the recycling process varies across different recycling plants, this provides a basic overview of how cardboard boxes are recycled.
Regardless of the recycling plant, a cardboard box will go through these basic steps: sorting, shredding, pulping, filtering, drying, pressing, and rolling.
Final Thoughts on Cardboard Recycling
Cardboard is a huge part of our day-to-day life, from shipping to containing food products. Cardboard has many advantages: it is versatile, durable, and strong while 100% recyclable.
Recycling cardboard boxes is an essential aspect of sustainability.
In 2018, The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that paper and cardboard boxes were the largest components of municipal solid waste. Thus, it is critical that they are properly recycled and do not end up in our landfills.
80% of US retailers and grocers recycle their cardboard boxes, and several US states have passed laws requiring paper products to be recycled (e.g., Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.).
Recycling cardboard is essential because it has environmental, societal, and economic benefits. It helps save trees, reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and non-renewable resources, and creates jobs in the green economy.