CORRUGATED BOXES are named for the fluted inner layer that is sandwiched between layers of linerboard. Known in the paper recycling industry as “old corrugated containers” or “OCC,” these boxes are used to ship products to factories, warehouses, retail stores, offices and homes. More than 90 percent of all products are shipped in corrugated containers. Corrugated packaging is the largest segment of the packaging industry, with more than 1,600 plants producing OCC.

Often, corrugated boxes are mistakenly called “cardboard boxes,” which do not have a fluted inner layer and lack the strength of a corrugated box. The term “double-lined kraft” refers to cuttings generated from corrugated containers manufacturing.

The extensive use of corrugated boxes in the American economy makes them the No. 1 waste stream component by weight. But OCC is easily recyclable, which also makes it the most recycled product by weight. Corrugated's MSW market share has increased by more than 50 percent since 1960, and its recycling rate doubled within the same period.

While some corrugated boxes are made of plastic, this profile is limited to paper boxes.

The columnist is director, state programs for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C. E-mail the author at: [email protected].

Corrugated Boxes Municipal Solid Waste Facts:


  • 31.2 million tons or 13.6% by weight.*
  • 228.8 pounds per person per year.*
  • Largest MSW item by weight.
  • 10% from homes, 90% from businesses.


  • 20.3 million tons, for a 65.1% recycling rate.*
  • Most recycled product by tonnage.

Recycled Content:

  • Varies by factory, but generally less than 40%.


  • If shredded properly, corrugated boxes are compostable.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 10.9 million tons or 6.6% of discarded MSW.*
  • Per-pound Btu value of 7,047 vs. 4,500 to 5,000 per pound of MSW.
  • By weight, the fourth largest disposed of product.

Landfill Volume:

  • More than 26.3 million cubic yards or 6.2% of landfilled MSW.*
  • By volume, OCC is the second largest item in landfills.


  • Landfilled OCC weighs 750 pounds per cubic yard.
  • Loose, unbaled OCC has a density of 50 to 100 pounds per cubic yard.
  • Loose, unbaled, stacked OCC has a density of 350 pounds per cubic yard.
  • Baled OCC has a density of 1,000 to 1,200 pounds per cubic yard.

Source Reduction:

  • Linerboard lightweighting has resulted in a 10% to 15% weight reduction in the past decade.
  • Compression, stacking strength and burst tests limit the ability to lightweight corrugated boxes. Heavy use of recycled fibers can increase box weight to meet these tests.

Recycling Markets:

  • 69% goes into corrugated medium or linerboard.
  • 18% goes into recycled paperboard.
  • 10% is exported.

End-Market Specifications:

ISRI Paper Stock Guidelines #11 (Corrugated Containers), #12 (Double sorted Corrugated) and #13 (New Double-Lined Kraft Corrugated Cuttings).

Contaminants include wax coatings, plastics, chipboard, mill wrappers, etc.


American Forest and Paper Association, Washington, D.C.

Corrugated Packaging Council, Rolling Meadows, Ill.,

Fibre Box Association, Rolling Meadows, Ill.,

Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines, National Recycling Coalition, Washington D.C.,

“Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 1999 Facts and Figures,” EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2000, Washington, D.C.

“Scrap Specifications Circular 2001,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, D.C.

*1999 EPA estimates.