How to Recycle Cardboard — and Why it’s Important in the Era of COVID-19

Liz Bothwell, Head of Content & Marketing

July 16, 2020

3 Min Read

Does your business or organization generate cardboard waste that is not being recycled? An increasing number of municipalities and states are instituting waste bans that prohibit corrugated cardboard from entering the waste stream. But, whether or not such a ban applies to your locale, cardboard recycling is a smart and environmentally responsible measure—especially now, in this time of COVID-19.

As noted by Brian Hawkinson, executive director of recovered fiber for the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), the pandemic has “exposed vulnerability in the supply of recovered fiber. Among the many impacts caused by COVID-19, AF&PA has seen a decline in the volume of recovered fiber from institutional, commercial and industrial facilities, such as schools, hotels and factories, many of which are experiencing reduced operations or are shut down.” Additionally, some residential recycling programs have experienced suspensions over the past months.

This, at a time when many packaging suppliers are seeing increased demand for cardboard—much of which is made from recycled fibers—as a result of people staying at home more than usual and ordering more products for delivery.

So, if you are in a waste- and recycling-management role—whether at an office building, retail or food-service operation, sports facility, managed housing property, or any other place that generates cardboard waste—now is the time to get a recycling plan in place.

Getting started

Your first step should be to check with your current waste hauler and/or recycling provider to see what cardboard-recycling options they offer and what protocols are required. For instance, some haulers accept comingled cardboard and paper; others do not. Most providers will want the cardboard to be broken down flat and kept as clean and dry as possible. And waxed cardboard (often used for shipping produce) is generally not recyclable.

If your current provider(s) don’t offer a suitable solution to meet your needs, search for other cardboard recycling services in your area. Or, if you have the ability to transport loads to a local facility, see where you can periodically drop off your collected cardboard. 

Preparing the cardboard for recycling

If your location only generates a small amount of cardboard per pick-up cycle, you may be able to simply stack and store it in your shipping-and-receiving area. But for larger volumes, you may find equipment such as compactors and/or balers to be useful. Another option is to install a cardboard-collection dumpster on the property. This is a cost-effective and relatively easy option that keeps cardboard out of your usual dumpsters and corralled in a designated spot.

Alternatives for reusing your cardboard waste

For some businesses—namely, those that need their own packaging material—it also makes sense to purchase a cardboard shredder so as to reuse some or all of the cardboard waste generated on site.

The bottom line is that cardboard is a commodity, and you can save and/or make money when you find ways to recycle it or sell it to those who need it. Three tons of trees are required to create one ton of virgin cardboard, so recycling is an important part of the packaging industry supply chain. And, the beauty of cardboard is that it can usually be recycled five or more times, giving the product a long useful life.

Any other tips? We would love to hear.

About the Author(s)

Liz Bothwell

Head of Content & Marketing, Waste360

Liz Bothwell is head of content and marketing for Waste360, proud host of the NothingWasted! Podcast, and ghostwrites for others to keep her skills sharp and creative juices flowing. She loves family, football, her French bulldogs, and telling stories that can help to make the world a more sustainable place.

Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter

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