Corrugated Boxes

CORRUGATED BOXES are named for the fluted inner layer called “corrugated medium” that is sandwiched between layers of linerboard. More than 90 percent of all products are shipped to factories, warehouses, retail stores, offices and homes in corrugated containers. Corrugated packaging is the largest segment of the packaging industry, with more than 1,600 factories making corrugated boxes.

Used corrugated boxes are known in the paper recycling industry as “old corrugated containers,” or “OCC.” Often, they 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, greatly diminishing the amount sent to disposal. OCC's MSW market share has increased by more than 50 percent since 1960, and its recycling rate has doubled in the same period.

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

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

Corrugated Boxes Municipal Solid Waste Facts:


  • 30.2 million tons or 13% by weight.*
  • 214.7 pounds per person per year.*
  • Largest item in MSW by weight.
  • 10% from homes, 90% from businesses.
  • Recycled:

  • 21.4 million tons for a 70.7% recycling rate.*
  • Most recycled product by tonnage.
  • Recycled Content:

  • Generally less than 40%.
  • Corrugated medium usually has more recycled content than linerboard.
  • Composted:

  • Compostable if shredded properly.
  • Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 8.9 million tons or 5.5% of discarded MSW by weight.*
  • 7,047 per-pound Btu value versus 4,500 to 5,000 per pound Btu for MSW.
  • By weight, the fourth largest disposed-of product.
  • Landfill Volume:

  • 26.3 million cubic yards or 6.2% of landfilled MSW.*
  • By volume, the second largest item in landfills.
  • Density:

  • Landfilled OCC weighs 750 pounds per cubic yard (lbs./cu. yd).
  • Loose, unbaled OCC weighs 50 lbs./cu. yd. to 100 lbs./cu. yd.
  • Loose, unbaled, stacked OCC weighs 350 lbs./cu. yd.
  • Baled OCC weighs 1,000 lbs./cu. yd. to 1,200 lbs./cu. yd.
  • 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:

  • 65% goes into corrugated medium or linerboard.
  • 18% goes into recycled paperboard.
  • 13% 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: wax coatings, plastics, chipboard and mill wrappers, etc.
  • Sources:

    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: 2000 Facts and Figures,” EPA, Office of Solid Waste 2002,

    “Scrap Specifications Circular 2002,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C.,

    *2000 EPA estimates.