Cardboard Recycling: How to Recycle and Reuse Cardboard Boxes

Recycling is very important in the fight to stay green and counteract the effects of climate change. One recyclable item that basically everyone uses is cardboard. Cardboard recycling is very important as almost every company uses cardboard for shipping purposes. In fact, cardboard itself is, most times, made out of recycled cardboard or lumber industry byproducts. However, there are things that you need to know about recycling cardboard. Like, where to recycle cardboard boxes, or if cardboard fits in recycling dumpsters.

Cardboard Recycling

From basic boxes for storage to those multi-color card stock, cardboard is a great material that you can buy in many different sizes and use in a variety of ways. Cardboard is a term that refers to heavier paper-based products. Normally, during manufacturing, cardboard falls into one of three categories. Paperboard, cardstock, and the ever popular, corrugated fiberboard, also known as cardboard boxes.

How and What is it Made of?

All types of cardboard are made from the same material, wood. Usually from hardwood and sapwood. Paperboard, which is basically just thicker paper. By either chemical or mechanical means, the wood is made into a pulp, which is then put through a bleaching process. Once that is done, they remove the water from the pulp and press, steam heat and add starch or resin. Finally, the new material is put through rollers to smooth it out and voila, paperboard.

Corrugated Fiberboard is basically cardboard boxes. These boxes are made out of several layers of paperboard, usually two outer layers with an inner corrugated layer. However, the inner layer is made from a different kind of pulp than the paperboard. It results in a thinner paperboard which can not be of any use in any paperboard applications, but it is perfect for corrugating because it is easily be made into a rippled form.

Cardstock is the thinnest type of cardboard, but still thicker than regular paper. This form of cardboard is typically useful for postcards, greeting cards and even some business cards. So, hence the name. The manufacturing is the same as it is for paperboard but is made to be thinner.

How to Recycle Cardboard

Most cardboard is recyclable. Recycling cardboard is the same as recycling anything else. Since most of the cardboard you are likely to recycle is bigger, you can place it next to your recycle bin. Where can you drop off cardboard boxes? Usually, your local recycling center will accept them. If not, you will need to ask them where you can take the cardboard boxes. However, there are some things you need to know when recycling cardboard. To understand these conditions, you first need to understand the process in which cardboard is put through recycling.

cardboard recycling

The Recycling Process

  • Collection- This is the first step. Depending on where you live, your recycling might get picked up like your trash. If not, you must find and take it to your local recycling facility. Almost every facility will recycle cardboard.
  • Sorting- One the cardboard is at the recycling center, it is sorted according to what materials it is made of. Usually it separates the large corrugated boxes from the thinner box/paperboard items.
  • Pulping- The materials are then soaked in a mixture of water and chemicals to break down the fibers and make a pulp, much like the pulp used to manufacture the cardboard. What goes around, comes around. The recycled pulp is then mixed with fresh pulp made from wood chips. This helps the old fibers to strengthen and solidify again.
  • Filter and De-Ink- The pulp is then put through a series of filters to remove any foreign materials like glue or tape. Once the pulp is clean, chemicals strip the inks and dyes from the old cardboard pulp.
  • Finishing- The last stage is when the pulp is mixed with virgin materials and dried. A machine then squeezes out any leftover water and creates a solid sheet called linerboard. The new linerboard is shipped to manufacturing companies to be made into new cardboard materials.

Guidelines For Cardboard Recycling

So, now that you know the process of how the cardboard is recycled, time to clue you in on the guidelines surrounding cardboard recycling. Now surprisingly, you can not recycle all the cardboard you receive.

Boxes like the ones you get from Amazon are fine, same with birthday cards, egg cartons, that brown paper stuffing that people sometimes use as insulator. All of that is fine. However, dirty or wet cardboard, most place do not allow. So your greasy pizza box, that is a no. Other items on the no fly list are birthday cards that are glittery, or have batteries in them, as well as food or drink cartons. But the food and drink cartons can be washed out and then put out for recycling. Also, all cardboard needs to be flat before the cardboard recycling collection happens.

The reasoning behind these guidelines is because if the cardboard is severely wet or not flat, it can jam the sorting mechanisms during the sorting phase of recycling. In addition, the items that are dirty or covered in grease, the process is unable to clean the foreign material which renders the cardboard unfit for recycling. Glitter can also gum up the works. If you are still unsure about which items you can or can not recycle, contact your local cardboard recycling center.

Why Recycle?

Recycling, is one of the best ways to have a positive impact on the world around you. It is important for both the environment as well as humans. By recycling, you are reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. Landfills can have devastating effects on the soil as well as the water and air, leading to further pollution.

Recycling has countless benefits. It can help reduce the destruction of habitats, caused by deforestation. Also, a lot of energy is spent when manufacturing products. By recycling, some of that material does not have to be made again. In cardboard recycling, much of the cardboard is made from recycled cardboard. So the materials come full circle. There are also economic benefits that come from recycling, because using raw materials costs much more than using recycled material.

Cardboard Projects

Of course, you can also reuse the cardboard before recycling it. Surprisingly, cardboard, due to its durability and dense structure, can be made into any number of things. Might be something fun to try with your kids on a free sunday afternoon.

  • Cardboard Rocket Ship- All you need is a few different size cardboard boxes. Just open the ends, cut out a door and a window. Your kids can take care of the decorating. What kid does not want to be a spaceman or girl.
  • Cardboard Roll Stamps- Have a bunch of toilet paper roll laying around? Those rolls can be easily bent and manipulated into heart shapes, squares, and many more.
  • Castle Fit for a King or Queen- For this, all you need is a large box. Cut the top into the top of a castle and cut a big square door. Tie some shoe laces or string from the piece you cut off and attach it to the castle and you got yourself a draw bridge. If you want to get really creative, get a whole bunch of cardboard boxes and make a super big castle or fort.
  • Cardboard Boats- Now, even though these boats may not be the best for taking on the seven seas, surely your kids will have a great time with them on dry land. While these may require a bit more creativity, they may just prove to be your kids new favorite toy.
  • Become Your Favorite Character- Cardboard, popsicle stick, and markers. All you need for your kid or you to become your favorite character. Whether you want to be Iron Man, Spiderman, or Batman, cardboard makes it possible.
  • Robot Invaders- The latest in high technology. Cardboard. Able to create for yourself a robot army, or even one giant robot, depending on the size of boxes you have. You can bring them to life, we have the technology.
  • Ring Toss- With a shoe box, toilet and paper towel rolls and paper plates, and you’ll be the hit of the party. Who does not like ring toss? Cut out the center of the paper plates for the rings, and the rolls will be the target. Glue or tape them on the shoe box and you are ready to go.
  • Animals Galore- For the tinsy bit more creative among you, cardboard can be a great way to make your kids favorite animal. Or at least, the head of the animal. Add an old broom and you got yourself the materials for a pretty decent hobby horse, or dinosaur, or dragon, or whatever your kid wants.
  • Village People- While this may take a bit more time and effort, the end result is worth it. (some assembly required) Large cardboard boxes can be made into multiple houses, along with some glue, decorations, and some creative thinking. You’re kids will have the luxury that you do not, the ability to go to a new house when they get bored or trash theirs.
  • Simple Box- For those kids who are young enough, just give them a large cardboard box and some markers or crayons. Most younger kids are extremely easy to entertain, especially when you give them walls that they are actually allowed to draw on.
cardboard recycling

Also, boxes make a great place for your cat to lay and play in....though they may not ask you first

If you are unable to recycle cardboard, there might be other uses for it around your house. If you do a lot of composting, cardboard could be useful in your pile. You can also use it to line the beds of gardens, or even as mulch for controlling weeds. And, a really popular option, reuse the boxes for shipping and storage.

Benefits of Recycling Cardboard

Everyone loves statistics, right? Well even if you do not, people create statistics for a reason. An easy view of the information gathered. Like this one, for every ton of recycled cardboard, it saves three to nine cubic yards of landfill space. Another statistic seen around is that recycling cardboard saves 25% of the energy that is needed to manufacture new cardboard.

Regardless if you believe the data or not, recycling is obviously a good idea. Recycling cardboard reduces the need to cut down more trees to make regular paper and other cardboard materials. You can even buy recycled paper in looseleaf form or notebooks. If you want more information, visit your local recycling center. But, by now, reduce, reuse, recycle should be a no-brainer.

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Patrick Sands

Hey, I'm Pat. I am a Millersville grad with a Bachelors of Arts in English. I love to write, play video games, watch movies and TV, basically be a total nerd whenever I can. Green and Growing is important to me because it allows me to help others be as green and eco-friendly as possible. With Climate Change being what it is, it is even more important for people to get educated about their environment. This website allows me to do my part in that. Also, I'm a huge goof who tries to add some humor into anything I write. Stay Excellent out there!

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