Recycling Cardboard
"Operation TreeWise"



 Cardboard recycling is a must, regardless of the type of business that you own. Depending on the amount of cardboard that your business uses, you may want to invest in different types of cardboard-recycling equipment. It is also imperative that you are aware of the appropriate key terms that are associated with the cardboard-recycling process. An understanding of the key terms will allow you to properly prepare your cardboard for recycling, and it can even positively affect your pocketbook.

bullet What is Considered Cardboard?
bullet Facts & Figures
bullet Guide to Cardboard Recycling Key Terms

What is Considered Cardboard?

Corrugated "cardboard" is a strong, versatile packaging material that is universally accepted for recovery and recycling. Corrugated packaging material is generally referred to by the general public as “cardboard” and by the industry as Old Corrugated Cardboard (OCC). The term “OCC” is used in this document. 

OCC is made from two strips of flat cardboard on the top and bottom, and a wavy “corrugated” or fluted strip running through the center. It is most commonly found in boxes used for packaging and shipping items. 

Paperboard (flat, pressed, stiff paper used in cereal boxes, for example)--also often called cardboard by the general public--does not have flutes, is of a lower quality paper, and is often coated. Paperboard, by definition, is not OCC ....

Examples of common OCC include cases or ream boxes (cardboard shipping containers for reams of copy paper, products, stationery, supplies, equipment, or publications) and are roughly 10”Hx10”Wx12”L. Some OCC boxes have matching lids, while others have flaps that are sealed shut. Gaylords are larger, heavy-duty shipping container versions of these boxes, often with lids and on pallets.  OCC comes in other sizes and shapes depending on their requirements, including non-box form, for packing, cushioning or other uses.


Facts & Figures

bullet Over 90% of all products in the U.S. are shipped in corrugated cardboard boxes.
bullet Cardboard is the largest single constituent of municipal solid waste (MSW). 
bullet 70% of all corrugated is recovered for recycling—the largest source of waste paper collected for recycling.  
bullet  Corrugated is often made of recycled content and almost always made of post-consumer material.
bullet Corrugated packaging allows significant source reduction by eliminating the need for overwraps and secondary packaging. It also can be engineered for increased strength using less raw materials, a process called “lightweighting”.
bullet Corrugated is more environmentally friendly than ever, able to accept non-toxic water-based inks and also to be processed without bleaching.
bullet After it’s recycled, paper (including OCC) is used to make chipboard, paperboard (i.e., cereal boxes), paper towels, tissues, and printing and writing paper.
bullet Ozone-depleting chemicals have been virtually eliminated from the manufacture of OCC; the use of heavy metals has been dramatically reduced; over 97% of inks on boxes are now water-based and non-toxic; and virtually all box plant trimmings (waste from manufacturing) are recycled.
bullet Even raw materials used to make OCC—lumber industry byproducts such as sawdust and wood chips—are renewable resources.
bullet Making the pulp from trees for use in corrugated cardboard creates sulfur dioxide pollution. Recycling corrugated cardboard into new products cuts the pollution generated by half.
bullet Corrugated cardboard manufactured from recycled pulp uses about 75% of the energy used in the manufacture of corrugated cardboard made from virgin pulp.
bullet Corrugated packaging is a $17 billion per-year industry—the largest segment of the entire packaging industry.

Cardboard Recycling Key Terms

Action Steps
The best contacts and resources to help you get it done


The word linerboard refers to a paper product that is produced from recycled paper fibers and new pulp. Linerboard is essential in the cardboard-recycling process.

We recommend: Longview Fibre Paper and Packaging has information on linerboard, how it is used during the recycling process and in other applications.


OCC, or old corrugated cardboard, refers to used pieces or boxes of corrugated packaging materials. These materials are used during the recycling of cardboard to create new products.

We recommend: Check out Recycle Guy for OCC facts and information about non-recyclable old corrugated cardboard.


A compactor is a piece of recycling equipment that is similar to a baler. It is used to crush cardboard and OCC prior to the recycling process. Cardboard-recycling plants also use compactors to crush OCC as the first part of the recycling process.

We recommend:  Chicago-compactors.com provides a diagram and description of a stainless steel compactor.


Pulp is an important word in the process of cardboard recycling. Pulp is the material that is created from old materials in order to make new materials. There are different types of pulp depending on the type of paper or cardboard material that is being recycled.

We recommend: For information on all types of pulp visit the American Forest & Paper Association.


A baler is a machine that's used to crush large pieces and boxes of cardboard. This process conserves space and gets the cardboard ready for the recycling process. It is a cost-effective tool for many types of business owners.

 We recommend: Harmony Enterprises offers information on cardboard recycling and the use of a baler.


Contaminants can ruin any recycling process. For cardboard recycling, the most common contaminant is food or grease.

 We recommend: Live Science offers facts about contaminants in the cardboard-recycling process, such as grease and food, and what can be done to prevent them.


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