How to Recycle Cardboard

An Overview on Recycling Cardboard Paper

We’ve all experienced it - ordering something small online and then receiving it in an oversized cardboard box. What a waste! And while things like the plantable Life Box are a little ways off from becoming mainstream in our shipping industry, there are still many cardboard recycling solutions that can make the environmental impact of your online shopping, moving, and other box-related activities smaller. After all, cardboard is a big part of our modern lives:

  • Australians use 183,000 semi-trailers worth of cardboard and paper (4 million tonnes)  annually, and only 50% is recycled.[1]
  • In the UK, 333 boxes pizzas are consumed every year and over 12.5 million tonnes of paper and cardboard annually.[2]

How cardboard paper recycling works

Cardboard recycling is one of the simplest recycling processes around. There are two types of cardboard that are commonly accepted for recycling:

  • Corrugated cardboard, which has that wavy, messy middle layer of material making it thicker and stronger.
  • Boxboard, which is the single-layered cardboard type that you see in things like cereal boxes and shoe boxes.

In some recycling systems these two types of cardboard are mixed together, though in most boxboard is usually processed along with paper. Regardless, once it gets to the recycling facility, the cardboard is pulped and blended with new wood pulp. It’s then formed into brand new cardboard linerboard which his shipped to boxboard plants to create new cardboard products. Recycling cardboard comes with many environmental benefits:

  • Lowers greenhouse gas emissions, since cardboard rotting in a landfill will release methane gas - a greenhouse gas that’s at least 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in terms of its heat-trapping ability.
  • Saves trees from being cut down, since most cardboard is made from mostly virgin tree pulp.
  • Reduces energy and water consumption, as making cardboard from recycled materials cuts energy use by 50% and water use by up to 99%.[3]

The only downside to recycling paper and cardboard is that every time they go through the process, cardboard fibers are weakened, which limits how many times they can be recycled. That’s why reducing your consumption of paper products is always preferable.

How to recycle cardboard

As one of the most commonly recycled materials in the waste stream, recycling cardboard is relatively straightforward.

  • Break it down: Almost universally, recyclers will ask that you break down your cardboard before you send it away, so be sure to do this by either breaking the seals and flattening the boxes or stomping on them to make them as compact as possible. This saves space on the trucks and in transport bins, which in turn reduces the fuel needed to transport it to recycling facilities.
  • Clean it up: If your cardboard has food bits on it, be sure to clean them off as well as possible to ensure that you don’t contaminate the recycling batch.
  • Curbside pick-up: If you have a curbside recycling program, you should be able to return cardboard and paper for recycling. If your community doesn’t have curbside recycling pick-up, check to see if there are any paid recyclers in your area - many companies are being started nowadays to pick up the slack where municipal governments leave off.
  • Drop off recycling: Where there are no pick-up recycling options, check into drop-off locations for depositing your used cardboard. Check out our recycling database for a list of resources for locating programs in your area.

Special cardboard recycling considerations

Some types of cardboard will require special handling to ensure they can be recycled with the rest of the paper products sent to processing facilities:

  • Pizza boxes: Many curbside recycling programs will accept compostable materials, including cheese-covered pizza boxes, and they can often be mixed together since they’ll end up at the same place. If your program doesn’t take compostables, then be sure to scrap off any food debris from your pizza boxes before returning them with the rest of your cardboard recycling.
  • Remove plastic: Some cardboard containers will come with plastic windows and liners. If possible, remove these before putting your cardboard in the recycling bin.
  • Wax coated cardboard: In some cases, things like fruit boxes that come with a wax lining cannot be returned for recycling. Check with your recycling program to see what their policy is, and if they do not accept this type of cardboard, try to either find a way to reuse these boxes (keep them for moving) or reduce your consumption of it in the future.
  • Milk cartons: These also come with a wax-like coating which means they are usually handled differently than regular boxboard or corrugated cardboard. Check with your recycling program to see if you can recycle milk cartons, and if so whether you need to separate them from other cardboard recycling.



1  Cardboard Recycling. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2010, from Planet Ark:

2  Cardboard packaging optimisation: best practice techniques. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2010, from WRAP:

3  (Cardboard Recycling)

Stay Connected.
You've been added to our mailing list.
Thank you for signing up!
Like ecolife on Facebook & Google, and join us in the Green movement!