Cardboard Recycling: Best Practices

Did you know, recycling 1 ton of cardboard could save over 17 trees? Since cardboard also is a very marketable scrap material, recycling this waste stream can have significant economic benefits in addition to the positive environmental impact. Here are some cardboard recycling best practices that could help your company get the best value from recycling this waste stream.

1. Source Separate Materials

The way scrap material is collected for recycling has a huge impact on its value. This is because comingled materials can either lower the quality of a material or require additional sorting prior to recycling (meaning increased operations expenses). To avoid these costs, try source separating your cardboard. Source separation is the process of immediately collecting a specific waste type at the point where it enters your waste stream. For example, if your company receives shipments of supplies in cardboard boxes, establish a system for collecting these boxes directly after they become empty. Depending on the number of points where cardboard enters your waste stream, you may consider having consolidation areas (such as by a baler) for each material. It’s important to note that sometimes certain similar materials can and should be recycled together. For instance, it’s not uncommon for companies to mix kraft bags and OCC together in a cardboard recycling stream. Companies should work with their recycling service provider to understand the best methods for grouping materials.

2. Keep it Clean

Occasionally, cardboard items themselves become contaminated with substances that cannot be removed prior to recycling. These might include things like food or organic waste, grease, powdered residue, tape, or labels. While each recycler typically allows a certain amount of contamination, too much may cause a recycler to lower rebate values or reject your load. Avoid these issues by keeping overly contaminated materials separate from the bulk of your recycling. Instead, try collecting these contaminated materials as a separate recycling stream, so as not to reduce the value of your other cardboard. Check with your recycling service provider for a better understanding of what contaminants they will accept.

3. Avoid Wet Cardboard

Cardboard is a type of paper commodity, and the value of scrap paper depends largely on its fiber quality. When paper fibers get wet, they weaken and become easier to tear. This reduces their tensile strength and overall value. Therefore, it’s best to avoid getting your cardboard recycling wet. For instance, when possible, do not store cardboard outdoors (or anywhere it’s likely to get wet). This includes avoiding any commingled collection that might contain liquid contaminants. If your cardboard does end up getting wet, consider recycling it separately from your dry materials, or set it aside to dry before adding it to the rest of your load.

4. Make it Dense

Transportation costs are one of the biggest factors that reduce recycling rebates. A key to reducing transportation costs is to make each recycling load as dense as possible. This will ensure you don’t pay to ship air. When possible, baling is often the most cost effective way to compact cardboard for recycling. However, if your company is not able to bale materials, compactors can also be effective for creating more dense recycling loads. Talk to your recycling service provider to determine what densification options will work best for you.

5. Check Bale Weights

If you choose to bale your cardboard recycling, make sure you use your baler as effectively as possible. The best way to determine this is by checking your bale weights regularly.  Bales vary in size based on the type of baler you use. However, you should be able to set target weights based on the specs for your equipment and the materials you load.

6. Bale Whole Boxes

You can also improve your cardboard bales by  not breaking down boxes prior to baling. This may seem counterintuitive, but cardboard boxes group together and bale better than  flattened cardboard. Bales made from flattened cardboard have a tendency to lose materials, and in some cases, the entire bale can slip apart.

7. Avoid Football Bales

Another thing that can ruin bales is loading too much material in the center of a baler. When you dump cardboard in the middle of a baler, it causes bales to have more material in the center and less along the edges (like a football). This not only reduces the amount of material in your bale, it also increases the likelihood that materials will start slipping loose. To avoid producing football bales, be sure you evenly distribute and flatten each level of cardboard you add to the baler.

These are just a few best practices that might help increase the value of your cardboard recycling. For more ideas on increasing the value of your recycling streams, contact us today.

***Feature Image Credit/Copyright Attribution: “PureRadiancePhoto/Shutterstock”