Corrugated boxes are named for the fluted inner layer that is sandwiched between layers of linerboard. The boxes need to be impact, drop and vibration-damage resistant, while still being light enough to ship products. Corrugated packaging is the largest segment of the packaging industry, with more than 1,300 box plants in North America.
Paper recyclers call used corrugated boxes "old corrugated containers" or "OCC." Consumers often mistakenly call them "cardboard boxes." Those boxes, however, 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 the manufacturing of corrugated containers.
The extensive use of corrugated boxes in the American economy makes them the biggest component of the waste stream by weight. Fortunately, OCC is easy to recycle, which also makes it the most recycled product by weight and greatly diminishes the amount sent for disposal. Its disposal share has decreased by almost 10 percent since 1960.
While some corrugated boxes are made of plastic, this profile is limited to paper boxes.
Corrugated Boxes Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Facts
- 31.4 million tons or 12.5% by weight.*
- 210 pounds per person per year.*
- 32.6 million tons in 2007 according to industry data.
- 22.6 million tons, for a 72.0% recycling rate.*
- 25.6 million tons (78.3%) in 2007 according to industry data.
- Generally less than 40%.
- Corrugated medium usually has more recycled content than linerboard.
- Compostable if shredded properly.
Incinerated or Landfilled:
- 8.8 million tons or 5.2% of discarded MSW by weight.*
- 7,047 Btus per pound compared to 4,500-5,000 for MSW.
- By weight, the fourth largest disposed of product.
- 26.3 million cubic yards or 6.2% of landfilled MSW in 1997.
- By volume, the second largest item in landfills.
- Landfilled OCC weighs 750 pounds per cubic yard.
- Loose, unbaled OCC weighs 50-100 pounds per cubic yard.
- Loose, unbaled, stacked OCC weighs 350 pounds per cubic yard.
- Baled OCC weighs 1,000-1,200 pounds per cubic yard.
- 10-15% 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.
- 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.
"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 Recycling Coalition, www.nrc-recycle.org
"Scrap Specifications Circular 2008, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries," www.isri.org
*Data is from 2006 EPA estimates.