How can I Recycle Cardboard?

B. Miller

Recycling cardboard can have a huge impact on reducing landfill waste and cutting down on pollution. Cardboard is used for over 90% of packaging materials in the United States, but is easily recycled. There are a lot of simple and easy ways to recycle cardboard.

Pizza delivery boxes should not be recycled.
Pizza delivery boxes should not be recycled.

There are two types of cardboard that can be recycled. These are corrugated cardboard, which is most commonly used for packaging materials, and paperboard, which is found in cereal boxes, shoe boxes and tissue boxes. Corrugated cardboard has one wavy piece of cardboard sandwiched in between two flat pieces of cardboard. The other type, paperboard, is a single flat sheet that is not truly cardboard but usually can be recycled along with it.

Cardboard boxes meant for recycling should be empty.
Cardboard boxes meant for recycling should be empty.

You cannot recycle cardboard from pizza boxes or any boxes that are stained with grease or oil. Cardboard that has gotten wet also cannot be recycled. The simplest way to recycle cardboard is to use your community's curbside pick-up service, if one is offered, or to take the cardboard to a drop-off center. If you are unsure where to find one of these, search online or look in the phone book for information. Some supermarkets will also accept old cardboard boxes, but be sure to call first.

Single stream recycling requires cardboard to be separated from other items.
Single stream recycling requires cardboard to be separated from other items.

To recycle cardboard, make sure the boxes are empty. Clean out any plastic or foam peanuts, and peel off packing tape. Cut down and flatten the boxes, and store them in a paper bag or tied with a string to make them easier to transport.

Recycling the cardboard is not your only option; there are other ways to reuse cardboard. The most obvious way is to reuse the boxes of items you received in the mail. You can re-package and re-mail items in the cardboard boxes and save yourself money and time. Another option is to give the boxes to kids to play with. Kids can make craft projects out of boxes and use their imagination.

Cardboard can be used in a number of creative ways. Some suggest using old cardboard boxes as beds for animals, as boxes for compost, or to place on the floor in a garage or workshop to prevent paint or oil stains. You can recycle cardboard by using boxes to store holiday decorations, seasonal clothes, or household items you aren't currently using.

Recycled cardboard can easily be reconstituted into new cardboard, using less natural resources and creating less pollution. It is so easy to recycle cardboard and reduce landfill contributions and waste. Getting kids involved in the recycling process can also teach them valuable life lessons about learning to reduce, reuse and recycle waste.

Cardboard is used for most of the world's packaging but is highly recyclable.
Cardboard is used for most of the world's packaging but is highly recyclable.

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Discussion Comments


@jholcomb - I'm glad you mentioned composting, as it can be an option for dirty cardboard, like pizza boxes, which can't be recycled. In San Francisco. the city actually picks up composting (participating is required by law).

But remember that step one is to *reuse* rather than recycle. A surprising number of people will throw away moving boxes in good condition, for instance. A better option for any cardboard boxes in decent condition is to sell them as moving boxes or give them away for that purpose. You can use Craigslist, Freecycle, or your community's own local free classifieds. (Many local papers have them, for instance.) It's environmentally friendly and also economical - brand-new moving boxes are surprisingly expensive, and they can often be used at least a few times before they have to head for the cardboard recycling center (or the garden).


There are actually a few different ways to recycle cardboard in the garden! One is as a natural weed liner. If you put it down under your mulch, it helps prevent weeds from growing in. It will biodegrade over time, not like the plastic liner that has to be pulled up every so often and replaced.

You can also compost shredded cardboard, especially paperboard. Paperboard does not recycle as well as corrugated cardboard (it makes very low grade paper), and not every community accepts it for recycling. You can put paperboard through a paper shredder, preferably a diamond-cut one, and then add it to your compost bin as "brown" material.

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