Everything You Need to Know About Cardboard Recycling

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Check your business’s trash and try to see how much of it is made of cardboard. Toilet paper tubes, cereal boxes, parcel packages and storage boxes are all made of cardboard. The United States alone generates as much as 850 million tons of cardboard waste in a single year. Thankfully, cardboard recycling efforts have a significant effect on reducing this number. Just like metal recycling, recycling cardboard is essential in preserving the environment.

But where are all these cardboard wastes coming from? How do businesses recycle cardboard? Is there cardboard you can’t recycle? And how can your business help make cardboard recycling easier?

Learn all the answers to these question about cardboard recycling and help transform your business into a more renewable enterprise today.

Where is All This Cardboard Coming From?

open cardboard box

An astounding number of products are packaged in cardboard, from food products to electronic devices. However, one of the largest contributors to cardboard waste is online shopping. What started as a niche industry has exploded into a massive worldwide enterprise. In 2017, Amazon’s introduction of same-day shipping for most of their products jumpstarted a 25 percent increase in online shopping.

The main issue with online shopping is it essentially uses twice the amount of cardboard and plastic to deliver the product to you. When you buy a product from the store, you use the cardboard its already packaged in and maybe a paper or plastic bag when you pay for the item. But when people and businesses order items online, the product is wrapped in plastic wrap or sheets and stuffed into enormous boxes which can also be covered in more plastic.

In 2020, the pandemic has kickstarted an unprecedented rise in online shopping. Because of restrictions and community lockdowns, buying from online platforms became the only option for a lot of people. Businesses leapt at the chance to remain profitable by ramping up their online delivery options. Massive retailers like Target experienced a 1,000 percent increase in their pickup grocery service in a single month alone. This entails a subsequent rise in cardboard waste. Approximately 25 percent of consumers said they expect the shift to online grocery and retail to remain after the pandemic abated, which can mean efficient cardboard recycling is more important than ever.

Although eco-friendly retail stores are employing methods like reusable packaging bags and shipping packages made of completely recycled materials, recycling cardboard is still the best option. Cardboard crafts and similar small efforts can contribute to sustainability, but the main burden will remain on business to recycle cardboard.

How Do Businesses Recycle Cardboard?

stacked cardboard pieces

If you’re thinking about partnering with a cardboard recycling business or starting one yourself, you may be curious about how the process works. Recycling cardboard entails a five-step system that proceeds as follows.

  1. Collection

The cardboard recycling business collects cardboard from designated areas. Municipally run recycling centers often take the appropriate bins on trash day. Private companies that recycle cardboard can be arranged to pick up cardboard waste if you’re a business with a lot of cardboard waste. Major collection points, aside from trash bins, are stores and scrap yards, as well as large retailers. The trucks then being back the bins or containers of cardboard to the recycling plant.

  1. Sorting

Cardboard storage boxes and other cardboard waste are sorted inside the facility. Although they prefer to winnow rejected material in the collection phase, they do so once more before sorting properly. The two main types of recyclable cardboard are boxboard and corrugated cardboard. Boxboard is thin, with inly one layer, and is often used for things like cereal boxes and the like. Corrugated cardboard is mostly used for transporting packages. Sorting the waste is important because these materials are used to make different grade products.

  1. Processing

The true processing begins first by putting the waste through a massive cardboard shredder. This is an important step to reduce the cardboard into more manageable pieces. The smaller the shreds, the quicker they are to process. Once shredded as fine as possible, its pulped. This means the shreds are mixed with water and specific chemicals that aid in turning the cardboard into a thick slurry. The recycled slurry is combined with new wood chips and fiber to help restore its strength and firmness.

  1. Refining

The slurry is further refined by a three-step phase. First, its run through a thorough filtering unit that combs up potential impurities like bits of string, pulped glue and packaging tape. Afterwards, the filtered slurry is put through an enormous centrifuge-like machine. Because of their relative densities, small bits of plastics will go to the top of the centrifuge and tiny bis of metal like staples will go to the bottom. These contaminants are removed before the slurry is deposited in a tank where the its bathed in more chemicals that leech away all dyes and inks.

  1. Finishing

The freshly cleaned pulp is blended with more fibers before getting squeezed flat under heated cylinders. These machines extract as much water as they can, making long, dry sheets of new linerboard. Several sheets of linerboard are then glued together in layers, forming a brand-new sheet of cardboard. This fresh product can then be sold to businesses for their packaging needs.

What Types of Cardboard Isn’t Recyclable?

crumpled french fry container

If you’re thinking of encouraging employees to be eco-friendly, enacting a cardboard recycling initiative in your business is a great idea. However, without the right knowledge, you could be making things harder for facilities that recycle cardboard. Without proper sorting information, your business’s cardboard waste can be rejected or worse spoil and entire batch of slurry. Not every piece of cardboard can be recycled and below are the main types of cardboard waste you should never put in the bin.

  • Greasy Cardboard

A ton of cardboard products are used to pack greasy food, most commonly pizza boxes. However, greasy cardboard is the bane of cardboard recycling plants. Grease is normally removed in plastic and metal recycling process through heating, but cardboard recycling has no such heating phase. If grease and oil are worked into the slurry and pulp, it can ruin an entire batch. Also, the grease can attract pests into the plant which can eat the cardboard and spread disease. Although there are new processes that make it easier to prevent grease from ruining recycled cardboard, you should still confirm with a recycling business if they can process greasy boxes before depositing your cardboard waste with them.

  • Food Containers

Just like greasy cardboard boxes, cardboard containers that used to hold food is similarly contaminated. In fact, they’re ever harder to process because the stains on them are varied. It could be sauce, melted chocolate or cheese. If these food particles end up in the finished product, it could lead to health issues. These stains will also cause problems as early as the sorting phase because they could cause the cardboard to decay before its even processed.

  • Waxed or Plastic-Infused Cardboard

Some types of cardboard containers are reinforced different substances to improve their ability to hold food or other products. For example, milk cartons and ice cream boxes are mostly lined with wax to keep their temperatures cool and prevent leakage. Frozen produce like shrimps can be stored in plastic-infused cardboard boxes. These types of cardboard cannot be recycled because the plastics and wax are infused into the fibers of the cardboard. No amount of centrifugation can get rid of these particles, reducing the strength and contaminating any product they end up in.

How Can You Recycle Cardboard?

cardboard pieces stacked together

If you’re running an environmentally friendly business like an eco-hotel or similar establishment, you may want to take steps in ensuring your enterprise recycles cardboard properly. When considering partnering with a cardboard recycling plant for your business, here are some ways you can make the process easier for you and the plant.

  • Make Cardboard Crafts

Cardboard recycling plants and facilities don’t usually partner with businesses unless you produce a lot of cardboard, like a retail store. If you have cardboard storage boxes but not enough to sell for a profit, you can use them in other creative methods. For example, you can use them to make cardboard crafts. Cover an old box with cloth and you have a stylish new storage container. Other cardboard crafts could include masks, decorative lampshades and desk organizers.

  • Pre-Process Cardboard

If you have successfully partnered with a cardboard recycling business, you can make things easier for them by properly pre-processing your cardboard waste. Remove all plastic tape, metal staples and similar impurities early on. Use a cardboard shredder or a pair of scissors to reduce them into small scraps. And remember to sort out greasy cardboard boxes or similarly contaminated containers.

  • Store Properly

If you have a ton of cardboard but you’re still waiting to accumulate some more before selling them to a cardboard recycling plant, you should make sure to store them as securely as possible. Stack similar types of cardboard together and keep them far from any moisture. Mold will render them non-recyclable and deteriorate them before they’re even collected.

The burden of keeping the environment as safe as possible for future generations falls on everyone, but businesses should take the initiative more and more. Cardboard recycling is just one way you can ensure your company takes proper steps into forming a renewable and sustainable future.

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