Recycling cardboard

Cardboard, also referred to as old corrugated cardboard (OCC), is a readily recyclable material with well-established local markets for processing and manufacturing. Make sure cardboard is kept clean and dry as it is collected in your facility. Cardboard with a small amount of contamination, such as liquid or grease, can be recycled. Waxed cardboard should not be collected for recycling, but may be accepted by some commercial composting operations.

Why should you recycle cardboard?

In Massachusetts, all recyclable paper, cardboard, and paperboard products are banned from disposal by the Massachusetts Waste Bans. According to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), cardboard in commercial loads of trash is one of the most common causes of a “failed load.”

In today’s economy, businesses and institutions recycle items like cardboard because it often saves them money on waste disposal costs. Recycling is also good for the planet and local communities because it helps conserve valuable resources, reduces pollution from production of new materials, and creates jobs. Some large generators of cardboard can bale or compact it, and market it directly to recyclers to receive revenue for this material.

To help businesses comply with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Waste Ban for cardboard and other materials, RecyclingWorks developed the following sector-specific tip sheets, available in both English and Spanish. Tip sheets for additional business sectors will be posted below as they become available.

PDFWaste Ban Compliance Tips for Retailers [English] [Español]

PDFWaste Ban Compliance Tips for Restaurants [English] [Español]

PDFWaste Ban Compliance Tips for Colleges & Universities [English] [Español]

PDFWaste Ban Compliance Tips for Food Manufacturers & Distributors [English] [Español]

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Waste Ban Compliance Tips for Property Managers [English]

How does it get recycled?

Businesses in Massachusetts can work directly with their hauler to establish cardboard recycling services. Many haulers will collect paper and cardboard together, enabling you to maximize your recycling opportunities while minimizing the space you need for recycling. Please check with your hauler to confirm what types of paper should be collected together in your program.

Once picked up from the business or institution, this material is hauled to a facility where it is sorted and baled. The baled cardboard is then ready to be shipped to paper mills domestically and internationally for recycling into new paper products. There are local markets in Massachusetts where the entire process takes place. Trucks deliver loads of old corrugated cardboard, the material is inspected, pulped, rolled into sheets, corrugated, glued into new sheets, and cut into shape ready for market.

What happens after it is recycled?

Recycled cardboard is a high-quality material that can be used as packaging materials and boxes, and cardboard can be recycled many times without losing its strength. Corrugated cardboard containers that get used for shipping have a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content.

What about pizza boxes?

Empty pizza boxes can typically be recycled, even if they contain grease. Remove all food, pizza savers (pizza tables), and liners. Liners and pizza savers should go in the trash, and any remaining food scraps should be composted or put in the trash.  

What about waxed cardboard?

Waxed cardboard is commonly used in supermarkets, restaurants, and other food service businesses for products like ice-packed produce and meat, because the wax protects the cardboard from becoming soggy and breaking down. Unfortunately, this helpful feature also makes waxed cardboard unacceptable for recycling. Depending on the material characteristics and quantity, waxed cardboard can be composted or made into other products.

Cardboard Recycling Case Study: Wyman’s Liquors

After receiving a failed load letter for excessive amounts of cardboard in the trash, Wyman’s Liquors made simple changes to their recycling program. Learn how Wyman’s came back in compliance with Massachusetts waste ban regulations and diverts 90% of the materials generated on-site.

PDFWyman’s Liquor Store Case Study: Learn more about how Wyman’s recycles cardboard, bottles, and cans throughout their retail space and offices. See the previous Wyman’s Liquors Case Study (2012) to learn more about program implementation.

Learn about recycling other materials

For more information on other commonly recycled materials visit these pages:

Additional Resources:

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