How to Properly Recycle Cardboard Boxes

Man laying under boxes

They appear at your front door, they keep your shoes safe before you wear them, they can entertain a toddler for days, they’re cardboard boxes! Over 90% of products in the United States are shipped in corrugated cardboard boxes. Can you imagine how much cardboard you’ve been through so far in your lifetime? 

Starting at a young age, we’re taught that recycling cardboard is more sustainable than cutting down trees to make virgin paper products. For starters, it takes approximately three tons of trees to make one ton of virgin cardboard. When one ton of cardboard is recycled, it effectively eliminates nine cubic yards of landfill space. Recycled cardboard also saves 24% of the energy needed to produce virgin cardboard.

So we know recycling is a great option, but it can be confusing at times. Instructions on how to recycle properly aren’t always provided from local authorities. In fact, you may be harming the process by recycling every cardboard box you come across. Here is a guide on how to properly recycle cardboard boxes. 

Types of Cardboard Boxes

There are two main types of cardboard, corrugated cardboard and paperboard. Corrugated cardboard is the most popular, and is easily recognized by its inner wavy layer, making it thick and durable. 

Paperboard (also known as chipboard) is a single layer of grayish cardboard that makes things like cereal boxes, shoe boxes, and other packages. Paperboard is much easier to tear than corrugated cardboard.

How To Recycle Boxes

  1. Remove any bubble wrap and other packaging materials inside the box. 
  2. Break down the boxes. It’s okay to leave on tape, labels, and other items as they will be removed at the recycling center. 
  3. Check the surface area to make sure you don’t have a spot soaked with any type of oil. If you do, cut that area out. 
  4. Cut or fold large boxes into smaller pieces so it will fit in your recycling bin. Make sure to check with local guidelines on the acceptable placement of the boxes. Some companies also might require cardboard to be tied or taped together. This is to prevent the wind from making a mess.
  5. Put them out on recycling day. Check the weather though as some collectors will not take cardboard or paperboard that’s wet. That’s because wetness weakens cardboard fibers and makes it less valuable for recycling centers. It also adds unnecessary weight to the cardboard that many centers don’t want to pay for.

When Not To Recycle

While you may think all cardboard is recyclable, this isn’t always the case. There are certain limits to what can go in a public recycling bin. Contaminated materials may pollute other materials and cause the entire bin of recyclables to be sent to the landfill. 

Used pizza boxes, paper coffee cups, or boxes that may have chemicals on them are just some items that may not be recyclable. Pizza debris found on pizza boxes, like oil and cheese, disrupts the recycling process and contaminates the recycled product. You can always cut the clean, non-contamind pieces off and recycle those. 

Other cardboard items, such as milk cartons, juice containers, and some produce boxes, are coated with wax or similar substances. This can affect their ability to be recycled. Check those containers for a recycling symbol, which is typically a triangle composed of three arrows, as well as any instructions about removing caps or washing out the inside. 

There are occasions when corrugated cardboard and paperboard can’t be recycled. The rules vary based on location. Always check with your local recycling center or government for your area’s specific regulations. 

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