Corrugated Boxes

CORRUGATED BOXES are named for the fluted inner layer called “corrugated medium” that is sandwiched between layers of linerboard. Corrugated 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 1,600 factories in North America 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 corrugated boxes. The term “double-lined kraft” refers to cuttings generated from corrugated container manufacturing.

The extensive use of corrugated boxes in the American economy makes them the No. 1 waste stream component by weight. Fortunately, OCC is easy recyclable, which also makes it the most recycled product by weight, greatly diminishing the amount sent to disposal. OCC's MSW market share increased by more than 50 percent since 1960, and its recycling rate 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 National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington, D.C. E-mail the author at:

Corrugated Boxes Municipal Solid Waste Facts:


  • 29 million tons or 12.6% by weight.*
  • 203.5 pounds per person per year.*
  • Largest item in MSW by weight.


  • 20.3 million tons, for a 70.1% recycling rate.*
  • 23.2 million tons (74%) in 2002 according to industry data.

Recycled Content:

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


  • Compostable if shredded properly.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 8.67 million tons or 5.4% of discarded MSW by weight.*
  • 7,047 Btus per pound compared to 4,500 to 5,000 Btus 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.


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

Source Reduction:

  • 10% to 15% weight reduction in the past 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.

Recycling Markets:

  • 64% goes into corrugated medium or linerboard; 17% goes into recycled paperboard; 15% 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.

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition, Alexandria, Va.

“Municipal Solid Waste In the United States: 2001 Facts and Figures,” U.S. EPA, 2004.

Corrugated Packaging Council

Fibre Box Association

“Scrap Specifications Circular 2003,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C.

*2001 EPA estimates.