Increasing Cardboard Box Recycling at Home

Cardboard boxes — corrugated packaging, in industry speak — are the most widely-recycled packaging material in the nation. In 2017, nearly 90 percent of cardboard boxes used in the U.S. were recovered for recycling.

Most cardboard boxes are used for shipments of consumer products to retailers. Many of these large stores – think Walmart, Target, supermarket chains and shopping malls – have machines onsite to turn the unpacked cardboard boxes into neat bales of broken down, flat cardboard that are then sold to paper recyclers. It’s an efficient process that delivers optimum quality material to make new cardboard boxes.

The rise of e-commerce has many people turning to the internet for their shopping, leading to a lot of cardboard boxes being delivered directly to consumers’ homes instead of retailers. The recovery rate of cardboard boxes from households varies, but tends to be lower than the rate from retail stores.

To respond to this shift in consumer purchasing patterns and to ensure additional recovery efforts, AF&PA is working with other corrugated packaging and recycling industry groups to encourage and promote increased residential recovery of corrugated boxes. The focus is on promoting increased consumer access to and participation in cardboard recycling. A few examples include promoting the use of carts instead of bins for residential curbside collection to accommodate larger volumes of cardboard; providing clear and harmonized messaging about recycling corrugated boxes to consumers; and developing more direct recycling messages on cardboard boxes to remind consumers to recycle.

AF&PA promotes making sure all products are empty, clean and dry before they are put in the recycling bin, and breaking cardboard boxes down flat or ripping them up to make sure they fit in the bin.

Our efforts to ensure increased recovery of high-quality cardboard boxes from households will allow high volumes of recovered cardboard to continue to go to their highest value end use: the manufacture of new products.

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