Recycling cardboard should be easy, and some 77% of cardboard is recycled, according to the EPA. Not all cardboard can be recycled, however. What are the facts on recycling cardboard?
First off, there are two kinds of cardboard. Corrugated cardboard -- used to make brown packing boxes -- is identified by the wavy inner layer of cardboard, making it a kind of three-layer sandwich of cardboard. Paperboard (sometimes called chipboard) is a single layer of gray cardboard that's used to make cereal boxes, shoeboxes and other packages.
When Not to Recycle Cardboard
In most cases, cardboard can be easily recycled, though recycling collectors often require that cardboard boxes be flattened before collection. Tape, labels and other items can be left on the cardboard (they'll be removed at the recycling center).
Cardboard and paperboard can't always be recycled, however. Pizza boxes and other food containers are often contaminated with grease, rendering them useless for recycling. Other cardboard containers are coated with wax or other substances to give them more strength when wet -- these usually can't be recycled, either. Juice containers, milk cartons and some produce boxes are resin- or wax-coated and are not always recyclable.
Some collectors will not take cardboard or paperboard that's wet. In all cases, check with your local recycling center or city government (check Earth911.com for contact information).
Benefits of Recycling Cardboard
If you can't recycle cardboard, there might be other uses for it around your house. If you compost, cardboard can be used in your compost pile. It can also be used to line garden beds or as mulch for weed control. And, of course, you can reuse it as a cardboard box for shipping or storage.
You might want to take these statistics with a grain of salt, but according to some recycling advocates, every ton of recycled cardboard saves nine cubic yards of landfill space (or three cubic yards, depending on who you ask). Other advocates say that recycling cardboard saves 25% of the energy needed to make new cardboard.
Regardless of which statistics you believe, it's common sense that recycling cardboard is a more sustainable option than cutting down trees to make virgin paper or cardboard products. For more specific information on recycling in your community, check with your local recycling center or municipal government (and again, check Earth911.com for contact information and more).