Corrugated Boxes

CORRUGATED BOXES ARE NAMED for a fluted inner layer that is sandwiched between layers of linerboard. Corrugated boxes need to be impact, drop and vibration-damage resistant, but light enough to ship products. Corrugated packaging is the largest segment of the packaging industry, with more than 1,600 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 makes it the most recycled product by weight and greatly diminishes the amount sent to disposal. While OCC's MSW market share increased by 50 percent since 1960, its recycling rate more than doubled and its disposal share decreased by almost 10 percent in the same period.

Though 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:


American Forest and Paper Association, and

“Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2005 Facts and Figures,” Office of Solid Waste, Washington,

Corrugated Packaging Council,

Fibre Box Association,

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition,

Scrap Specifications Circular 2006, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington,

*2005 EPA estimates.

Corrugated Boxes (OCC) Municipal Solid Waste Facts:


  • 30.9 million tons or 12.6% by weight.*

  • 208.5 pounds per person per year.*

  • 33 million tons in 2006 according to industry data.


  • 22.1 million tons, a 71.5% recycling rate.*

  • 25.2 million tons (76.4%) in 2006, 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:

  • 8.8 million tons or 5.3% of discarded MSW by weight.*

  • 7,047 Btus per pound compared to 4,500-5,000 Btus for MSW.

  • By weight, the fourth largest disposed of product.

Landfill Volume:

  • 26.3 million cubic yards or 6.2% of landfilled MSW in 1997.

  • By volume, the second largest item in landfills.


  • Landfilled OCC weighs 750 pounds per cubic yard (lbs./cu. yd.).

  • Loose, unbaled OCC weighs 50-100 lbs./cu. yd.

  • Loose, unbaled, stacked OCC weighs 300 lbs./cu. yd.

  • Baled OCC weighs 1,000-1,200 lbs./cu. yd.

Source Reduction:

  • 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.

Recycling Markets:

  • 60% goes into corrugated medium or linerboard.

  • 21% is exported.

  • 16% 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, etc.

TAGS: Paper Business