Ever wonder what happens to that cardboard box after it's placed in the recycling bin? It’s on its way to becoming a pasta box, a coffee cup or many other paper products we use every day. Since paper products are one of the most recycled materials in the U.S., you can feel confident that cardboard box will be transformed into something new.
In fact, 91.4% of all cardboard boxes in the U.S. were recycled in 2021. And the paper and packaging industry is determined to see that number grow with investments of around $5 billion in recycling infrastructure planned or announced from 2019 – 2024 to continue the best use of recycled fiber. That means, here in the U.S., we’re making advancements so we can accept more and more paper products into our recycling stream.
To help make recycling easier, read our tips below about what can and cannot be recycled.
Know Your Community
If you’re unsure of your community’s guidelines, BeRecycled.org offers a nationwide lookup system that can lead you to the right spot in your town’s recycling rules and educate you on what can be recycled. In general, cardboard boxes need to be dry, emptied and flattened.
A common mistake is including non-recyclable packaging material in the recycling bin. Most municipal recycling facilities do not accept plastic foam, inflated packaging, plastic air pockets and other “soft” plastics (i.e., the kind that keeps its shape if you scrunch it). Those should go to a dedicated drop-off spot. If your community offers one, BeRecycled.org can lead you there.
Recycle Food Packaging with Care
Paper-based food containers, like the paperboard takeout boxes your fries or hamburger come in, are a sustainable option in part because they’re made with a renewable resource. And much of the time they can be recycled—but not always.
Depending on the rules of your local facility, you may be able to recycle paper food containers like cups and pizza boxes as long as they’re empty and clean.
When you use paper products, you’re doing your part to help the planet. Because the paper, packaging and boxes you rely on every day are designed to be easily recycled up to 7 times.
Think About Packaging Beyond Boxes
You know you can recycle cardboard boxes. But you might accidentally toss out other forms of recyclable packaging, like the tube of that roll of wrapping paper or molded pulp packaging (the egg carton-type packaging that often secures goods in place within their box). Most recycling facilities accept these along with cardboard.
With these tips, you’ll be all set to recycle your packages throughout the year.