Corrugated boxes are named for the fluted inner layer that is sandwiched between layers of linerboard. Corrugated boxes need to be resistant to damage from impacts, drops and vibration, and still be light enough to ship products. Corrugated packaging is the largest segment of the packaging industry, with more than 1,500 box plants in North America.
Paper recyclers call used corrugated boxes “old corrugated containers” or “OCC.” Consumers often call them “cardboard boxes,” but those boxes do not have a fluted inner layer and thus lack the strength of OCC. The term “double-lined kraft” refers to cuttings generated from the manufacture of OCC.
The extensive use of corrugated boxes in the U.S. makes them the biggest manufactured product in the waste stream by weight.
Fortunately, OCC is easily recyclable, which also makes it the most recycled product by weight and greatly diminishes the amount sent to disposal. Since 1960, OCC generation increased by 305 percent; its MSW market share increased by 43 percent; its recycling rate more than doubled; and its disposal share decreased by one quarter.
While some corrugated boxes are made of plastic, this profile is limited to paper boxes.
Corrugated Boxes MSW Facts
- 29.7 million tons, or 11.9% by weight.
- 195 pounds per person per year.
- 22.76 million tons, a 76.6% recycling rate.
- 24.2 million tons, or a 81.2% recycling rate, including kraft paper (2008 industry figures).
- 43% in 2006 (industry data).
- Corrugated medium usually has more recycled content than linerboard.
- Compostable if shredded properly.
Burned or Landfilled:
- 6.95 million tons, or 4.2% of discarded MSW by weight.
- 7,047 Btus per pound, compared to 4,500-5,000 Btus for MSW.
- The third largest disposed-of product by weight.
- 26.3 million cubic yards, 6.2% of landfilled MSW in 1997.
- The second largest item in landfills by volume.
- Landfilled OCC weighs 750 lbs. per cubic yard (lbs/cu.yd.).
- Loose, unbaled OCC weighs 50-100 lbs/cu.yd.
- Loose, unbaled, stacked OCC weighs 350 lbs/cu.yd.
- Baled OCC weighs 1,000-1,200 lbs/cu.yd.
- 10% to 15% weight reduction in last decade due to linerboard lightweighting.
- 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.
- 60% goes into corrugated medium or linerboard.
- 21% is exported.
- 15% goes into recycled paperboard.
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.
“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, www.epa.gov/osw
Corrugated Packaging Council, www.corrugated.org
Fibre Box Association, www.fibrebox.org
“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recyling Coalition, Washington, www.nrc-recycle.org
“Scrap Specifications Circular 2009,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, www.isri.org
*Data is from 2008 EPA estimates, except where noted.