Is Your Organization Recycling Corrugated Cardboard Correctly?

September 15, 2015

Corrugated cardboard is a major driver of the U.S. economy, and part of the reason for that is its sustainability. It is the most renewable packaging material that is available to us, and it is a cost-effective way to ship and package your goods. Look around, and you’re sure to see corrugated cardboard in your daily life at the office and at home. We’ve talked in the past about the different types of corrugated cardboard shipping boxes. Now we wanted to take a second to discuss why recycling corrugated cardboard is so important.

The process is rather straightforward for how paper mills recycle used corrugated cardboard. The cardboard is pre-pulped and a chemical process is used to separate and bleach the fibers. From there any contaminants are removed, and the ink is washed off to create clean fibers. The fibers are then pressed and rolled to create new paper, which is then used for boxes and other paper products. We’ve gotten more efficient with the recycling process, but can the same be said about how organizations recycle?

Are Businesses Recycling at a Sustainable Rate?

The state of Wisconsin put out a small PDF for businesses on how to improve their recycling practices. One of the key statistics that stood out was the amount of corrugated cardboard that is wasted by retail stores and warehouses each year. More than 50% of corrugated cardboard is wasted by business each year, which is a shame as corrugated cardboard is one of the most sustainable materials out there.

This is not to say that we haven’t gotten better with recycling corrugated cardboard as a whole. First, let’s take a look at the paper industry. In the 1980s, the recovery rate for paper in the United States was 30%. Today, that number has gone up to 50%. Still, there are 71 million tons of paper that goes into our waste stream each year.

Our ability to recover corrugated cardboards has been way better than that. Currently, the recovery rate for corrugated cardboard is 73% making it the most recycled packaging material in the world. This itself is an improvement as the recovery rate for corrugated cardboard in 1990 was only 53%. In 2004, for example, 24 million tons of old corrugated cardboard was able to be recycled to be used again.

Where Is Corrugated Cardboard Used?

Old corrugated containers (OCC) are used for myriad applications. Just look around your home or office, and you’re sure to find many products that are packaged with corrugated cardboard or made from corrugated cardboard. That cereal that you eat every morning was probably packaged with corrugated cardboard. The paper towels that you used for cleaning or the paper that you use in your office was probably recycled from OCCs too.

In fact, corrugated cardboard itself is generally made with wood fibers, and half of those wood fibers are made by industry byproduct like sawdust. A third of all corrugated cardboard is made with recycled OCCs as well as other recycled paper, creating a sustainable and renewable source of packaging. According to the American Forest and Paper Association, here is the breakdown of how old corrugated cardboard was used to make new packaging and other products in 2005:

  • Containerboard (63 percent)
  • Recycled paperboard (17 percent)
  • Exports to other countries (17 percent)
  • Tissue (less than 1 percent)
  • Packaging and industrial converting (1 percent)
  • Other (1 percent)

How Can Businesses Recycle More?


First and foremost, organizations should take a look at their paper use to determine whether or not they are recycling enough. The Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation recommends hiring a recycler to conduct a waste audit of your commercial waste bin to help you see what your waste consists of, so you can make decisions on an organizational level. If you are wasting too much paper, there are a number of ways you can reduce your carbon footprint.

  1. You can buy your paper from renewable sources. Only deal with shipping companies that use corrugated cardboard for packaging, so you can recycle more.
  2. You can also consider how you use paper. For example, if you’re printing out thousands of sheets of paper when an email or electronic document would suffice, it might be a good idea to make the switch.
  3. It’s also important to consider how you recycle. In regard to corrugated cardboard, all OCCs should be sorted and separated from the rest of your recyclables. Any contamination will reduce a recycler’s ability to recycle the corrugated cardboard. It might be a good idea to either contract with a separate recycling company than your waste hauler or take the recyclables to a buy-back center for further efficiency.
  4. Consider employee training to improve your recycling habits. Offer rewards and other promotions to help your employees reconsider how they use their paper.

Can Businesses Use Corrugated Cardboard More Efficiently?

Besides recycling, businesses should also look at how they pack. For example, did you know that 40% of shipped packages are empty space? Businesses are literally shipping air, but they’re still using the same amount of corrugated cardboard as they would if they were shipping product. Using 40% smaller boxes could reduce the amount of corrugated cardboard used by 26%, saving 5.81 million tons of corrugated cardboard. This not only saves nearly 100 million trees, but it also means tens of millions of oil barrels saved and more than a billion cubic feet of landfill not used.

Therefore, companies must consider box size in their packaging in order to improve their carbon footprint. This is where Packsize can make a major difference. Our On Demand Packaging® machines allow companies to create customized boxes based off the dimensions of the product that requires shipping. The end result is the perfectly sized box for the product as well as the environment.

For more information about how your organization can find better packaging options through corrugated cardboard, please contact us at Packsize today.

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