How Is Cardboard Recycling Done? Everything To Know About Cardboard Waste Reduction

Here at Our Happy Planet we understand there are few recyclables more ubiquitous than cardboard. Cardboard is what gives nearly every package mailed its shape. Cardboard is what many (if not most) products are packaged and stored in, and cardboard is one of the most commonly generated waste products in nearly any business. This is why cardboard recycling is so important in both the consumer and business world.

With so much cardboard being used, it’s not surprising that EPA estimates say as many as 25 million tons of corrugated cardboard (which doesn’t include other types of products we generally consider cardboard, such as paperboard and chipboard) are disposed of each year. Fortunately, much of that—between half and ninety percent, depending on your source—is recycled each year. And a big part of that is because it’s so easy to recycle!

Not only can recycled cardboard be used to make new cardboard boxes, but it can also be downcycled into paperboard (which is what is used in products like cereal boxes) or chipboard (which is used in shoeboxes, for instance). And that has huge energy savings; 1 ton of recycled cardboard may save up to 9 cubic yards of landfill space and 3 tons of trees!

Read on to learn more about how to best recycle cardboard.

A Simple Guide to Household Cardboard Recycling: Step-By-Step Guide

  1. Identify Recyclable Cardboard. First off, distinguish what kind of cardboard you have. Remember, corrugated boxes, juice cartons, and other cardboard products can be recycled.
  2. Prepare Your Cardboard. Ensure your cardboard is clean and dry. It’s essential because dirty or wet cardboard hinders the recycling process. Remove any non-recyclable materials like plastic wrapping or bubble wrap from the cardboard.
  3. Flatten Your Cardboard. Next, flatten your boxes to save space in your recycling bin and at the recycling facility. Be sure to remove packing peanuts and other packaging materials.
  4. Separate by Type. Organize your cardboard by type. Corrugated boxes and thinner cardboard materials, like cereal boxes or paperboards, should be separate.
  5. Recycling Bin Storage. Store your flattened cardboard in your recycling bin. Make sure it’s dry to prevent any contamination of paper fiber.
  6. Use Curbside Recycling Programs. Take advantage of curbside recycling programs if available in your area. These programs are incredibly convenient and eco-friendly.
  7. Find a Recycling Center. If curbside programs aren’t available, locate a nearby recycling center. A quick online search can help you find your closest center.
  8. Extended Producer Responsibility. If you have a significant amount of cardboard from a specific product, contact the producer. Some companies may have extended producer responsibility programs to help with recycling.
  9. Educate Your Family. Finally, share your knowledge about the benefits of recycling with your family. Teach them the importance of recycling and how it helps American forests and contributes to an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Follow these steps and you’re well on your way to becoming a cardboard recycling pro. Remember, every piece of recycled cardboard counts and helps sustain our planet for future generations!

Video: Cardboard Recycling

Is Cardboard Garbage or Recyclable – The Basics

Remember, not all cardboard is destined for the recycling bin. Sure, most of it can be recycled, but it requires your attention. Ensuring it’s dry, clean, and flattened is the key. Could some of the unusable cardboard contribute to compost or gardening instead? Think about it!

However, certain conditions could lead your potentially recyclable cardboard straight to the trash bin:

  • Wet cardboard? Nope, it can’t be recycled.
  • Soiled cardboard, whether by plastics or food stains? That’s a recycling no-go.
  • Cardboard that’s not flattened? That depends on your local facility.

So, how do you give your cardboard the right send-off? The disposal of cardboard can take several routes. You could simply throw it out, but wait – what about recycling? Paper and cardboard recycling shouldn’t be treated the same. If your cardboard hasn’t crossed off the recycling eligibility (remember those conditions above?), it’s time to prep it for recycling. Let’s dive into the ‘how-to’, let’s make cardboard recycling efficient, and inch closer to the zero waste goal!

10 Cardboard Recycling Tips

Cardboard originates from paper mills and transforms into various items like packaging materials, beverage containers, and even your everyday pizza box. Recycling corrugated cardboard is somewhat akin to paper waste collection, with a few distinctions. Ensure that recyclable cardboard doesn’t mingle with hazardous waste like motor oil. Here are 10 easy tips for cardboard recycling

  1. Maintain Dryness. Keep your cardboard dry, as wet cardboard becomes difficult to recycle.
  2. Flatten Boxes. Flatten all your boxes to conserve space in recycling bins and ease transportation.
  3. Remove Contaminants. Ensure that no plastics or other non-cardboard materials are mixed in, but don’t stress about tape.
  4. Personalized Recycling System. Create a system that enables you to break down, store, and eventually transport boxes.
  5. Proper Storage. Store cardboard where it can remain dry and flat until ready for recycling.
  6. Keep it Clean. Ensure your cardboard remains free of food stains, which render it non-recyclable.
  7. Separate Food Boxes. Food oil can contaminate other cardboard, so keep food boxes separate.
  8. Consider a Cardboard Baler. Balers compact cardboard efficiently and offer a cost-effective alternative to traditional dumpsters.
  9. Transport Cardboard in Cardboard. Use dry cardboard to transport other recyclables, increasing efficiency.
  10. Creative Use of Cardboard. Not all cardboard is recyclable, but you can compost it or donate it to composting facilities.

Having your own recycling system can make it easier to manage your cardboard waste. Proper storage ensures that cardboard remains in a recyclable condition, and keeping it clean avoids issues with food contamination.

Separating food boxes protects other recyclables from oil contamination. If you have large quantities of cardboard, a baler might be a worthwhile investment. Using cardboard to transport other cardboard can be an efficient method if the transport cardboard is kept dry.

How To Recycle Cardboard

Recycling cardboard should be straightforward and easy. There are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind, though.

First, keeping the two types of cardboard straight isn’t necessary; most places don’t differentiate between recycling corrugated cardboard (the three-layer cardboard used in packing boxes and other heavier-duty cardboard products) and paperboard or chipboard, both of which are single-layer, much thinner cardboard-like what’s used for cereal boxes or shoe boxes.

Second, your cardboard needs to be in good shape. That means that it can’t be contaminated, coated, soiled, or wet. What does that mean? Food boxes, for instance, are often not recyclable, either because they have food stains (such as from oil or grease) or because they are wax-coated (such as with juice boxes or milk containers). Similarly, soiled or otherwise dirty cardboard often can’t be recycled, and many cardboard recycling centers won’t take cardboard if it is wet, as it’s more likely to disintegrate.

Third, you should be neat and orderly with your cardboard. That means it should just be cardboard, for instance, and not any of the packing materials that might have come with that cardboard. Similarly, you should break your cardboard down so it stacks neatly. Large items may need to be folded, as well. This allows the cardboard to travel more neatly, makes it less likely to fly away in the wind, and is necessary for the cardboard to be fed into the machines used to break down the cardboard in the recycling facilities.

Lastly, store your cardboard somewhere safe (where it will stay dry, clean, and unsoiled) until you have enough (and the time) to take it to a cardboard recycling collection center.

How Do You Prepare Cardboard for Recycling?

By using the simple steps we just discussed above! As long as your cardboard is recyclable (that it is, it isn’t contaminated, soiled, waxy, or wet), it’s pretty straightforward. Clean and dry cardboard is the easiest for recycling programs to work with, whereas recyclable materials such as waxed cardboard can require some additional steps.

Remove any shipping materials, break down your cardboard (use a knife or scissors to cut whatever tape was used to seal the top or bottom, then simply collapse the box into a flat object). If it’s a really large box, you may need to fold it after flattening it in order to save space, but really, it’s pretty simple.

And it’s pretty simple to find a drop-off location. You can simply Google “cardboard recycling” and your zip code, for instance, and odds are good that numerous locations will show up in the results.

Can Cardboard Boxes Be Recycled?

Yes, you can recycle most cardboard boxes! By now, you understand the do’s and don’ts of cardboard recycling – keep it dry, clean, and free of contaminants. But what if you’re overwhelmed with an excess of cardboard, more than your curbside recycling bin can handle, perhaps after a big move or an online shopping spree? Don’t worry, you’ve got options.

  • Visit your Local Recycling Center. If your area doesn’t offer curbside cardboard recycling programs, load your flattened boxes into your vehicle, or rent a larger one if necessary, and head to the recycling center. Many facilities accept cardboard for free. There might also be local businesses in your area that collect vast amounts of cardboard for recycling. Recycle Nation’s search tool can help you locate them.
  • Give Away for Reuse. Chances are, someone in your community needs cardboard boxes, whether for moving, storage, or other purposes. Websites like Craigslist, U-Haul’s Customer Connect, local Facebook groups, or university bulletin boards can connect you with those who can reuse your boxes.
  • Donate for Composting. Your cardboard can aid a community garden or landscaping organization. It decomposes to create organic matter or mulch, helping to suppress weeds when laid down before soil. Shredded cardboard also makes excellent garden paths.
  • Rent a Cardboard Dumpster. If you have an overwhelming amount of cardboard, consider hiring a waste-hauling company. They deliver a dumpster, leave it for a predetermined period, and then haul it away. You can specify that you want your cardboard recycled.
  • Use Recycled or Reused Boxes. Promote cardboard recycling by reusing boxes or using recycled ones. Ask local grocery or liquor stores for their old boxes. If that’s not an option, you can buy boxes made from 100% recycled paper.

10 Interesting Facts About Cardboard Recycling

  1. Roughly 75 billion cardboard boxes are recycled each year in the United States.
  2. Roughly 100 billion cardboard boxes are produced each year in the United States.
  3. If you just did that math, that means somewhere in the neighborhood of 75% of boxes made each year get recycled.
  4. 1 ton of recycled cardboard may save up to 9 cubic yards of landfill space and 3 tons of trees.
  5. Recycling 1 ton of cardboard also saves 46 gallons of oil. Depending on your vehicle, that’s likely 2-3 tanks of gas!
  6. Recycling 1 ton of cardboard also saves 390-kilowatt hours of electricity. For comparison, that’s the equivalent of running a medium-sized window air conditioner nonstop for 390 hours—which is more than 2 weeks!
  7. More than 90% of all products shipped in the United States are shipped in corrugated cardboard boxes. That’s more than 400 billion square feet of cardboard!
  8. Recycling cardboard only takes 75% of the energy needed to make new cardboard—or less, depending on the source.
  9. Amazon ships most of its products in cardboard boxes. Given that 27 million item sold on Amazon on Cyber Monday (the busiest sales day of the year) alone, that’s an awful lot of cardboard boxes!
  10. The first corrugated cardboard box was manufactured in Brooklyn in 1895; by the early 1900s, cardboard boxes were replacing wooden crates and boxes.

Discovering Local, Free Cardboard Recycling and Making Money From It – Cardboard Recycling Near Me

The majority of the time, you can recycle cardboard free of charge. In the event, your municipality doesn’t provide curbside recycling programs, don’t fret. Resources such as RecycleNation’s Recycle Search tool exist to guide you to local recycling facilities. You’ll soon find the perfect spot for your cardboard and paper products.

Have you ever wondered about making money from recycling? Some businesses offer payment for cardboard. Companies may pay anywhere from 50 cents to 2 dollars per box, considering the box size. It’s an effective approach to extended producer responsibility that benefits you too.

Instead of using Craigslist, consider websites exclusively designed for selling boxes. Corrugated cardboard boxes are usually in high demand. Explore platforms such as,,,, and These sites typically offer a minimum of 50 cents per box.

Calling your local recycling center might also bear fruit. While they might not offer as much money, their proximity could make the process smoother and more environmentally friendly. Remember, the journey of recycling, from paper pulp to shiny new cardboard, is not only beneficial for the planet but can also benefit your pocket!

Cardboard Recycling Facts

Cardboard Recycling FAQs

Can Wet Cardboard Be Recycled?

Yes and no. While some places will accept wet cardboard for recycling, the vast majority will not. Fortunately, it can be pretty easy to keep your cardboard dry. Simply store it appropriately (somewhere where it will stay flat and dry and free of soiling contaminants), and you’ll stay in great shape!

Can Paperboard Be Recycled With Cardboard?

Most places will accept paperboard and chipboard right along with other cardboards, including corrugated cardboard. As with other cardboards, simply ensure that you’ve kept your paperboard clean, dry, free of contaminants, and flatten before dropping it off at a recycling collection center.

How Should I Be Recycling Cardboard Boxes?

Consider the ten cardboard recycling tips we suggested before. To simplify it even further:

  1. Keep your cardboard dry, clean, and free of soiling or contamination.
  2. Store your cardboard somewhere where it can stay dry, clean, and free of soiling or contaminants.
  3. Break your cardboard down.

Voila! Take your dry, clean, broken-down cardboard to a recycling center or recycling collection center and you’re done!

Do I Need To Remove Tape and Labels From the Box?

Nope! You need to make sure your cardboard boxes are dry, clean, and free of contaminants or food soiling, but you don’t need to worry about tape or labels, as those can be dealt with in the cardboard recycling process. You do, however, need to flatten your cardboard boxes so they can be more easily transported and then fed into the processing machines at the recycling facility.

Where Can You Take Cardboard To Be Recycled?

Most local municipalities either offer curbside cardboard recycling, a local recycling center, or both. If that’s the case in your neighborhood, take advantage! Additionally, consider private companies that may have recycling yards. There are easy ways to search for cardboard recycling near you; one of our favorites is RecycleNation’s Recycle Search tool.

Are all types of cardboard recyclable?

No, not all types are. While most cardboard, like shipping boxes or paperboards, can be recycled, certain types, such as shiny cardboard or waxed cardboard, cannot. Always check with your local recycling program if you’re unsure.

What happens to cardboard when it’s recycled?

Recycled cardboard undergoes an interesting transformation. First, it’s mixed with water to create a slurry. The slurry is then broken down into paper pulp, a combination of wood pulp and paper fiber. The pulp gets cleaned, removing any contaminants like tape or bubble wrap, and is then pressed and dried to form new paper products.

Can food-soiled cardboard be recycled?

Unfortunately, no. Food-soiled cardboard, like pizza boxes, can contaminate the recycling process. Oil or grease from food interferes with the pulping process when the cardboard is mixed with water. It’s best to discard soiled portions to keep the recycling stream clean