Recyclable Cardboard: What Can & Cannot Be Recycled 2023

As a sustainability advocate, I can’t stress enough how important recyclable cardboard and paper are for our efforts toward a greener future, sustainable business practices, and sustainable packaging.

So, let’s dive into everything you need to know about curbside and commercial cardboard and baled cardboard recycling!

But, wait, is cardboard recyclable? Yes, cardboard is widely recycled and is considered one of the most recyclable materials. And, is all cardboard recyclable? Not really! Read on to learn what types of cardboard can and can’t be recycled!

What is Recyclable Cardboard?

Recyclable cardboard, also known as corrugated cardboard, is a sustainable and environmentally-friendly material that can be repurposed and reused instead of being sent to waste disposal.

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The recycling process involves the reprocessing of multi-layered papers or thick sheets that have been discarded or regarded as waste.

Recycling cardboard for cash helps businesses save money on overall waste disposal costs, while also reducing their carbon footprint and contributing to a sustainable future.

Recycling centers and municipalities typically accept cardboard for recycling, making it easy for individuals to participate in this eco-friendly effort.

What cardboard can be recycled? Here’s a table with the types of cardboard that can and cannot be recycled:

Types of CardboardCan Be RecycledCannot Be Recycled
Corrugated CardboardYesNo painted or soiled cardboard
PaperboardYesNo waxed or overly thick cardboard
ChipboardYes
Brown Paper BagsYes
Toilet Paper RollsYes
Paper Towel RollsYes
Egg CartonsYesNo soiled cardboard
Pizza BoxesYes, if cleanNo soiled cardboard
Milk and Juice CartonsYes, if cleanNo waxed cardboard
Shipping EnvelopesYesNo plastic-based materials
Cereal BoxesYes, if plastic liner removedNo overly thick cardboard with liner
Recyclable Cardboard: What Can and Can’t Be Recycled

Cardboard is a commonly used material in packaging, shipping, and storage due to its excellent strength-to-weight ratio and affordability.

Recycling cardboard reduces the amount of waste going to landfills and helps preserve our environment. But what types of cardboard can be recycled?

What kind of cardboard CAN be recycled?

what type of cardboard can be recycled

Here are all the types of cardboard that can be recycled:

  • Corrugated Fiberboard – This is a thick, ridged material used for shipping boxes, cardboard tubes and dividers. Rejoice, for this type of cardboard is the most common type recycled globally!
  • Paperboard – Make some space for the dense, lightweight and thinner cardboard used in cereal boxes, greeting cards, and shoeboxes. You can still make your recycling bin happy with these too.
  • Chipboard – Light, and made from recycled paper products, this type of cardboard is commonly used to package toys, cosmetics, and food.
  • Brown Paper Bags – These are made from kraft paper, and are a type of cardboard made from wood pulp. Unleash your ecological conscience and add these also to your recycling stash.
  • Toilet Paper and Paper Towel Rolls – Cheer! There’s no need to throw away your toilet paper and paper towel rolls – these can be fully recycled.
  • Egg Cartons – Are you an egg person? Perfect. Corrugated and paperboard egg cartons can still be saved, but not if you leave them dirty.
  • Pizza Boxes – Another opportunity for pizza lovers to save the planet. As long as they’re free from oil, grease, and food debris, pizza boxes can still go in your recycling bin!
  • Milk and Juice Cartons – Surprised? You can roll these Tetra Pak coated-cardboards covering milk and juice too for recycling.
  • Shipping Envelopes – Envelopes used for shipping are also recyclable – think padded envelopes and bubble mailers, which can be created from cardboard or paper products, and not plastic-based.
  • Cereal Boxes – Are you a cereal addict? We understand. Light and made from paperboard, cereal boxes can also be recycled. Just ensure to remove the plastic liner in them first.

What is corrugated fiberboard?

Corrugated fiberboard is the common brown carton used for shipping goods, yes, exactly that one!

This type of cardboard is extremely popular because it’s lightweight, quite resistant, and easy to recycle.

Corrugated fiberboard is typically made of 3 to 7 layers of strong paper, depending on the level of protection and strength of the box required for shipping:

  • Single-wall cardboard: it has 3 layers of paper. The middle layer is corrugated to guarantee improved protection against impact.
  • Double-wall cardboard: it has 5 layers of paper, 2 of which are corrugated. Those offer more protection against impact and are also more resistant to bending.
  • Triple-wall cardboard: it has 7 layers of paper, 3 of which are corrugated. Those are very strong boxes that may even be used instead of wood crates.
Double-wall cardboard
Double-wall cardboard

Is corrugated cardboard recyclable? Yes, corrugated cardboard is widely recyclable. Moreover, you can also get paid for it because it is a very valuable commodity.

Paperboard

Paperboard has a single layer of strong paper material, it can be brown, bleached, white-lined or glossy and it is a very popular solution for packaging. This can be used to create boxes or protective inserts and can also be colour printed.

So, Are cardboard boxes recyclable? Generally, yes, they are.

It offers less protection than corrugated fiberboard, so it is generally used to package single products or components that then are packaged inside of a corrugated fiberboard box.

Paperboard can be baled as a stand-alone or together with corrugated fiberboard cardboard.

Just be careful to use wires of appropriate strength depending on the amount and type of corrugated fiberboard that you may want to add in the same bale together with paperboard because corrugated cardboard requires stronger wires compared to just paperboard when baling.

What kind of cardboard CANNOT be recycled?

Not all types of cardboard are created equal. Some cardboard types may seem recyclable, but it is in your best interest to trash them or dispose of them via other means.

Here are the cardboards which should NOT be put in your recycling bin:

  • Select Painted Cardboard – Always ensure that the cardboard is clean. Cardboard painted with oil-based paints or those using adhesives to attach decorative items, such as glitter, ribbons, etc., makes the cardboard unfit for recycling.
  • Waxed Cardboard – Don’t confuse cardboard that is waxed with the glossy finish. Waxed cardboard typically consists of juice containers and milk cartons. The wax layering allows the cardboard to withstand the liquids, and during the recycling process, this waxing coats the machinery, which can be hazardous and reduce the recyclability of other materials. Just make sure to not confuse those with Tetra Pack cartons.
  • Soiled Cardboard – There is a reason that pizza boxes are often not a part of recycling guidelines. Even if the cardboard looks clean, food grease can seep through the surface and contaminate your recycling. Witnessing anything oily or soiled on the cardboard material makes it unrecyclable.
  • Overly Thick Cardboard – Thick and sturdy cardboard might seem like a great option for recycling, but the thickness can make it difficult for the recycling machines to process. Recycling facilities use a pulping method to break down the cardboard for recycling, which cannot break down such cardboards, overflowing the recyclers, and resulting in ineffective recycling.
  • Non-Cardboard Items – Avoid shoving non-cardboard materials into the bin with the cardboard. These include Styrofoam products, plastic bags, and straws – binning them together with cardboard creates sorting challenges and makes recycling costly for everyone.

It’s a Local Matter Too!

Each recycling program is different, and material acceptance depends on the resources available in your region.

Therefore, always make sure to check the transparency of your area’s recycling options, and never forget to recycle paper and cardboard with care!

can you recycle cardboard with paint on it?

When it comes to recycling cardboard with paint on it, the answer is not always straightforward. So, is painted cardboard recyclable?

Certain types of paint, such as watercolors or vegetable-based paints, do not interfere with cardboard recycling and can be recycled after use.

However, if the paint is oil-based or contains solvents, it could potentially contaminate the cardboard and may not be accepted by recycling programs.

Furthermore, the severity of the paint coverage on the cardboard would also be a factor in determining whether it is recyclable or not.

For instance, if the paint is only present on a small section of the cardboard, that section could potentially be cut or torn out, while the rest of the cardboard can still be recycled.

As a general rule, it is recommended to remove as much paint and other contaminants as possible from cardboard before attempting to recycle it.

Washing out the cardboard with warm water and soap, or scraping off any remaining paint, would be a good start. However, if the cardboard is heavily contaminated, it may be best to dispose of it in the regular trash rather than contaminating the entire recycling batch.

It’s worth noting that some recycling programs may offer special recycling options for cardboard that is contaminated with certain materials or hazardous substances. It’s always best to check with your local recycling program for specific guidelines and recommendations.

is glossy cardboard recyclable?

It depends! Cardboard with a shiny, glossy finish is often more challenging to recycle than non-glossy cardboard. The glossy layer is typically made from plastic or wax, which can hinder the recycling process, and in most cases, such cardboard is NOT recyclable.

I encourage you to check with your local recycling program to see if they accept glossy cardboard or offer any recycling options, as some facilities are equipped to recycle such materials.

can you recycle cardboard with tape on it?

In most cases, cardboard with tape is still recyclable, but there are a few precautions to take. If the tape is only a small part of the cardboard and can easily be removed, it is best to do so before putting it in the recycling bin.

However, if the tape is sticking to the cardboard tightly or covers a large section of it, it is recommended to dispose of the cardboard in the normal trash.

Moreover, using biodegradable materials like paper tape, or recycling programs accepting the tape used in the packaging, makes the process of recycling even easier; check with your local recycling program for specific details.

The same applies to any other labels, stickers, or adhesives on the cardboard. Make sure to remove those items before recycling or dispose of the cardboard if it is challenging to do so.

Commercial Cardboard Recycling

Commercial cardboard recycling differs from curbside recycling programs and is more complicated. Businesses that generate cardboard waste need to source a recycler that fits their needs and complies with federal and local regulations.

PRO TIP

f you are a business dealing with a lot of cardboard, then you should consider getting a cardboard baler like the one below. In this way, you will be able to deliver baled cardboard that will not only save space but the recycling center will also PAY a whopping 30% MORE for your cardboard!

In addition, if you need to handle a large enough volume of recyclable cardboard, you will benefit from leasing or purchasing a cardboard baler like the one below.

This machine allows you to bale the cardboard and compress it to reduce the occupied space.

Moreover, you will be able to sell your baled cardboard receiving 30% more money for it! Not bad!

Why to Bale Cardboard?

Required Paperwork and Documentation

When it comes to commercial cardboard recycling, there is a set of required paperwork and documentation that businesses need to comply with. This is designed to ensure that the recycling process is carried out correctly and effectively.

For example, businesses in Massachusetts are required to comply with the Waste Ban for cardboard and other materials by showing evidence of their recycling efforts.

Collection and Disposal Options for Businesses

Businesses have a few collection and disposal options for their cardboard waste. The most common one is curbside recycling, which involves including cardboard boxes in the regular recycling bin, which the local municipality or recycling facility picks up.

Some businesses choose to deliver the cardboard directly to a drop-off location, and others rely on collection and disposal services offered by commercial recycling companies.

Compliance with Local Regulations and Restrictions

One crucial note: make sure to comply with the local regulations and restrictions for cardboard recycling. These rules vary from town to town, so be aware of what is acceptable in your area.

For example, some communities may not accept cardboard boxes contaminated with food, chemicals, or grease. Others may need the cardboard to be flattened or cut down to a specific size.

To avoid issues, keep an eye out for any local restrictions and requirements. By following these guidelines, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a commercial cardboard recycling superstar!

Guidelines for Curbside Cardboard Recycling

Here’s what you need to know about curbside cardboard recycling.

Accepted Materials for Curbside Recycling:

  • Flat corrugated cardboard boxes (flatten and remove tape/glue)
  • Cheese boxes, cereal boxes, shoeboxes
  • Waxed or soiled cardboard, such as pizza boxes, are not accepted

Preparation and Best Practices for Curbside Recycling:

  • Break down boxes to their smallest size possible
  • Ensure that boxes are flattened and tape/glue is removed
  • Consider posting boxes on social media or online classified platforms for reuse

Local Regulations and Restrictions:

  • Check with local authorities for recycling guidelines and restrictions
  • Some areas may have specific sorting or processing requirements, such as clear bags or imprints on the cardboard
  • Limitations on amounts and types of cardboard may apply

By following these guidelines, we can make sure that we reuse as much cardboard as possible and limit waste that ends up in landfills. Let’s work together to create a better and more sustainable environment!

Methods for Reusing and Repurposing Cardboard

Repurposing cardboard boxes can provide businesses with a more sustainable alternative to disposal. Straying from merely recycling, businesses may find these versatile boxes useful for organizing and storing excess materials.

Interestingly, these boxes can also serve as unique crafty toys or even scholastic raw materials. Considering donating to local schools and nonprofits, who value and rely on cardboard boxes to fuel creativity in their education programs.

DIY Projects and Creative Ideas for Reusing Cardboard

Cardboard is a versatile material, and there are many creative ways to repurpose it. One project idea is to transform cardboard boxes into unique storage bins by adding fabric or painting them.

Another idea is to make cardboard planters for indoor plants by folding and cutting the boxes into the right shape.

Cardboard can also be used to build DIY furniture such as chairs, tables, and shelves. Various online tutorials give instructions on how to execute these projects or businesses can hire a professional repurposing team to maximize their cardboard waste.

Finally, if you are into technology, you can use a 3D printer to create molds and repurpose cardboard to create new cool objects all DIY. Check out the video below!

Play Video

How to Properly Prepare Cardboard for Reuse or Donation

Before reusing or donating cardboard boxes, they must be properly prepared to ensure compliance with safety and hygiene standards.

Depending on the purpose, cardboard boxes may need to be disinfected and cleaned. Additionally, cardboard boxes should be flattened before they are picked up for reuse or donation.

Importance of Recycling Cardboard

The recycling of cardboard is a vital process that plays a significant role in saving trees and reducing deforestation. The reuse of this waste material is a fundamental part of the 6 Rs of sustainability and can significantly reduce the demand for raw materials.

It is estimated that recycling a ton of cardboard can save nine cubic yards of landfill space and save 17 trees.

Additionally, recycling helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserves natural resources such as water and energy. Proper cardboard recycling is essential to minimize waste and promote a safer, cleaner, and healthier environment for future generations. That’s why recycling is an important component of the environmental responsibility for businesses.

Benefits of Proper Cardboard Recycling

Proper cardboard recycling has numerous benefits, such as reducing waste disposal costs and promoting environmental sustainability.

By recycling cardboard, businesses can potentially save thousands of dollars in waste disposal fees and reduce their carbon footprint, making them more sustainable and environmentally conscious.

Recycling also contributes to the creation of new jobs and businesses. Furthermore, proper cardboard recycling helps to conserve natural resources, such as water and energy, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. All of those benefits are essential to be environmentally sustainable.

FAQ

How to fasten cardboard for recycling?

If you are not using a cardboard baler, then wrap it with twine or string, making sure that the bundles are no larger than 18 inches in height. It is important to also flatten the cardboard and cut or fold it into smaller sections, such as 3-foot by 3-foot squares.

Labels and tape do not need to be removed before recycling, but make sure the cardboard is clean and dry. Wet or greasy cardboard should not be recycled and should be disposed of in the trash.

Can cardboard be taped for recycling?

When preparing cardboard for recycling, it is important to keep in mind that it should be flattened and bundled with string or twine. However, the question arises if it is allowed to use tape to keep the cardboard together.

Unfortunately, the answer is no, tape is not permitted as it can harm the recycling process. It is recommended to use string or twine to bundle the cardboard instead.

Conclusion

Recycling cardboard is vital for the protection and preservation of the environment. It helps to prevent the emission of harmful greenhouse gases and saves trees from being cut down.

Proper cardboard recycling also contributes to waste reduction, effective solid waste management, and cost savings for businesses. By implementing sustainable packaging methods such as using recyclable cardboard, businesses can reduce their carbon footprint, while positively influencing the global environment.

Good news, folks! With the rise in environmental concerns, more and more people are realizing the importance of recycling. And when it comes to recycling, recyclable cardboard is a no-brainer!

It’s cost-effective, easy to recycle, and a great way to contribute towards a sustainable future. So, whether you’re a business owner or an individual looking to do your part for the planet, recycling cardboard should definitely be on your to-do list!

Recycling may seem like a small step, but it can lead to significant change. With cardboard being one of the most commonly used packaging materials, recycling it is crucial for reducing waste and preserving our planet.

So, let’s all do our part and make sure that recyclable cardboard never ends up in the trash.

Together, we can make a positive impact on the environment and create a greener future for generations to come!

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About The AuthorSimon
Hey there! I'm Simon, an entrepreneur and engineer with 15+ years turning ideas into reality, including senior roles in the automotive industry. Drawing from my expertise, I write insightful guides empowering readers to transform their lifestyles through efficiency, innovation and green tech. From renewable energy to hybrid and electric vehicles, sustainable living to gardening, boating to RVing - I cover it all! I aim at helping readers embrace emerging tech to find new, sustainable solutions.

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