Commercial cardboard recycling

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Commercial cardboard waste disposal

From the delivery boxes of all your online business orders to the cereal and tea boxes used by those who have breakfast in the office, cardboard waste is an inevitable part of any business.

And so businesses that manage it the best have an advantage. Not only to ensure compliance with waste regulations and avoid fines but also to potentially sell your excess cardboard for a profit, enhance corporate responsibility, and more.

In this article, we cover everything your business needs to know about cardboard recycling, from why it’s so important to how best to separate, dispose of, and arrange for its collection.

 

 

Ensures compliance

Ensures compliance

UK waste regulations require businesses to follow the waste hierarchy. This means that cardboard should not be disposed of as general waste unless it cannot be re used or recycled (in that order).

Reduces energy use

Reduces energy use

Recycling cardboard requires 25% less energy than generating it from virgin materials. This reduces both direct carbon emissions and manufacturing costs.

Conserves natural resources

Conserves natural resources

Recycling cardboard reduces the demand for raw materials such as wood, thus conserving forests and biodiversity.

Reduces landfill waste

Reduces landfill waste

Cardboard recycling helps minimise waste sent to landfills,  thereby extending landfill lifespans and reducing associated environmental impacts.

Reduces emissions

Reduces emissions

Utilising less energy in production prevents carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel power stations. Preventing cardboard from reaching landfills negates the potential methane emissions from its anaerobic breakdown.

Corporate responsibility

Corporate responsibility

Businesses that actively engage in recycling demonstrate environmental responsibility, which can improve their public image and appeal to eco-conscious consumers, and even attract young talent for employment.

Saves water

Saves water

Recycling cardboard requires 80% less water compared to producing new cardboard from virgin pulp, contributing to more efficient and sustainable water resource management.

Generates green jobs

Generates green jobs

Cardboard recycling provides raw materials for the recycling industry, which creates jobs and contributes to the economy.

Circular economy

Circular economy

Recycling cardboard is both environmentally and financially sustainable. It reduces reliance on overexploited natural resources while redirecting financial resources across the recycling chain.

Understanding commercial cardboard recycling

Our business waste experts explain the main points to understand about commercial cardboard recycling.

Why commercial cardboard recycling?

Waste regulations require businesses, NGOs, and public organisations to dispose of their waste separately from domestic waste. This means they must arrange for separate commercial waste collection, including collection of recyclables like cardboard.

The same regulations also require cardboard to be reused, recycled or composted (in that order) before considering its disposal in general waste. The minimum requirements are stipulated by your local council.

Businesses will be able to chose from the followings cardboard waste management options:

Commercial cardboard recycling statistics

Here are some key statistics from government sources that provide a general overview of the UK cardboard market:

The UK generates a lot of cardboard waste

In 2021, 5.4 million tonnes of cardboard and paper packaging waste was generated in the UK. This is equivalent to the weight of 1,000 cruise ships, or 900,000 adult elephants!

The UK recycles most of its cardboard waste

In the same year, 70% of cardboard and paper packaging was recycled in the UK. This is notably higher than the recycling rates for other materials, such as 60% for plastic packaging and 40% for wood containers.

This excludes the substantial volumes of corrugated cardboard used annually in composting to produce well-balanced soil amendments.

Globally, corrugated cardboard is the most recycled material.

Recycling cardboard is both cheaper and more efficient

While the specific figures vary depending on the type of cardboard product, on average, recycling cardboard uses 25% less energy and 80% less water than producing it from virgin materials.

This increased efficiency is largely attributed to the ease of pulping existing cardboard waste compared to processing shredded wood fragments.

Source: ​UK Gov statistics, Challenge Packaging

How to recycle commercial cardboard

Let’s get to the nitty gritty: What does your business need to do to recycle cardboard? To determine the best approach, consider the following step-by-step questions:

  1. What type of cardboard waste do you generate?
  2. How much cardboard waste do you produce?
  3. What commercial cardboard recycling services are available?

What type of cardboard waste do you generate?

Recyclable cardboard

Corrugated cardboard

Corrugated cardboard

Shipping boxes, document storage boxes, large electronics packaging

A sturdy, durable and light-weight packaging material consisting of a fluted sheet and one or two flat linerboards. The corrugated fluting gives its distinctive ridged appearance.

Paperboard

Paperboard

Cereal boxes, notebook covers, small electronics packaging

A thick, paper-based material that is generally thicker than regular paper but thinner and more flexible than corrugated cardboard. It’s typically made from recycled paper or wood pulp and comes in several grades.

Non-recyclable cardboard

Contaminated cardboard

Contaminated cardboard

Pizza boxes, takeout containers, industrial packaging

Cardboard used for food packaging often becomes contaminated with grease, oil, or other sticky substances. Similarly, cardboard exposed to hazardous chemicals can render recycling problematic.

Waxed cardboard

Waxed cardboard

Freezer packaging, Dairy product boxes, beverage cartons

Cardboards coated with a layer of wax make it resistant to moisture and humidity, making them suitable for food packaging. The wax coating is difficult to remove for recycling.

Painted or dyed cardboard

Painted or dyed cardboard

Cardboard deco, Imported product packaging, gloss-coated cardboard

Cardboard that has been heavily painted or dyed can be problematic for recycling due to the chemicals in the paint or dye, especially lead-based paints and permanent markers.

Wet or moldy cardboard

Wet or moldy cardboard

Unsheltered cardboard packaging

Cardboard that becomes excessively wet and is not dried promptly will develop mold. Mouldy cardboard is not suitable for recycling as mould spores are resistant and may contaminate the final product.

Adhesives or Tape

Adhesives or Tape

Excessive packing tape or glued-on-labels 

While small amounts of packaging tape or glued-on-labels may not be a problem, excessive amounts of adhesive materials can be problematic during the cleaning phase of recycling.

How much cardboard waste does your business generate?

The second step is to determine how much recyclable cardboard your business generates to calculate the amount and size of bins required.

We recommend doing a weekly roundup of the volume of cardboard (folded) generated by your business. Use the following table as a general guideline to calculate appropiate bin sizes and collection frequency.

BusinessWeekly cardboard waste volumeBin typeBin volume (litres)
Small office< 0.1m3Standard wheelie bin120 - 240
Typical shop, medium office0.1 - 0.5m3Commercial wheelie bin600 - 1100
Warehouse, large shop, enterprises>0.5m3Front-end loader4000 - 8000

💡 Consider a compactor: Substantial amounts of cardboard waste can quickly take a lot of space, especially due to varying box sizes. Purchase a compactor to save money on commercial waste bins, waste collection costs, and potentially fetch a higher price for your cardboard.

What commercial cardboard recycling services are available?

Now that you understand your commercial cardboard waste, the next step is to figure out the best way to manage it in compliance with regulations.

This largely depends on the servicess available in your area, so it’s important to contact your local council for detailed information. Alternatively, provide us with your postcode, and we can gather a range of waste collection quotes for you.

In any case, here are your options:

Consider donating any uncontaminated cardboard boxes in good condition to local charities, businesses, schools, or community centres. Reusing waste items is prioritised at the top of the waste hierarchy.

2. Recycle cardboard in DMR bins

Some councils (especially in England) offer commercial dry mixed recycling (DMR) as the only alternative for cardboard recycling. This entails recycling it together with other dry recyclables like glass, metals, paper and plastics. Their combined volume determines the required bin sizes and collection frequency.

3. Recycle cardboard in Paper & Cardboard bins

Other councils (especially those outside of England) may offer a separate recycling stream for paper, cartons, and cardboard. These waste types can be recycled together due to their similar composition.

4. Sell your cardboard waste for cash

Businesses that generate significant amounts of cardboard waste (at least hundreds of kg per week) can potentially sell (or at least receive free collection) their non-contaminated cardboard waste.

This can help your business cut waste collection costs that would otherwise be incurred if the cardboard were collected through standard recycling streams such as DMR.

Bear in mind that waste regulations require the organisation collecting your waste to have the appropriate licenses for waste collection and transport. Your business is responsible for ensuring this.

💡 Consider a baler: If your business generates significant amounts of cardboard waste, consider investing in a baler to compact it for temporary storage at your premises. Pre-baled cardboard waste may even fetch a better price.

5. Compost your cardboard

Last but not least, you may consider composting your cardboard to create soil amendment as a by-product.

Cardboard is required as a balancing component in the commercial food waste composting process, and it’s a great option for discarding (in low volumes) food-spoilt boxes or even moldy cardboard as they will gradually break down along with the food waste.

What happens after your cardboard is collected?

Once your commercial cardboard waste is collected from your premises, it typically undergoes the following process:

1. Pre-sorting and baling

If your cardboard was collected as part of Dry Mixed Recycling (DMR), it must be separated from other recyclables, baled and transported to a more specialised facility.

2. Re-sorting and grading

If your cardboard was collected as a single waste stream alongside paper and carton, it will be re-sorted and graded. Corrugated cardboard, paperboard, carton, regular paper, etc are separated into quality grades.

Visibly contaminated cardboard is discarded at this stage.

3. Shredding and pulping

The sorted cardboard is then shredded into small pieces. These are mixed with water and chemicals to create a slurry, breaking down the cardboard into its constituent fibres in a process known as pulping.

4. Cleaning

The pulp undergoes a series of cleaning and screening processes to remove contaminants like tape, staples, plastics, and inks.

5. Bleaching and strengthening

After cleaning, the pulp may be bleached for a whiter appearance or left unbleached for a more natural look. The cleaned pulp is then mixed with new pulp from virgin or recycled sources to enhance its strength for future use.

6. Drying and rolling

The wet pulp is pressed and dried using large rollers, which squeeze out any remaining water and form a continuous sheet of cardboard. This sheet can then be cut and rolled as required.

7. New products

The finished rolls or sheets of recycled cardboard are then sent to manufacturers who use them to make new cardboard products, such as boxes, packaging materials, and other paper goods, completing the cycle for this recyclable.

Commercial cardboard recycling – FAQs

Our business waste experts answer those commonly asked questions about cardboard waste produced by businesses.

What types of cardboard can be recycled commercially?

Most cardboard products can be commercially recycled in the UK.  This includes transport boxes, cereal boxes, tea boxes, electronics boxes, shoe boxes, notebook covers, etc.

The only exceptions are instances where cardboard is wet, contaminated, or mixed with other materials that impede recycling. This includes waxed and painted cardboard, cardboard containing excessive amounts of tape or glued labels, and soiled cardboard (e.g., pizza boxes).

For more details, see our recyclable and non-recyclable cardboard sections.

How much does it cost to recycle cardboard commercially?

The cost of recycling cardboard commercially in the UK varies and is influenced by several factors, such as the volume of cardboard, its quality, and market prices. Prices can be further impacted by global events like the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a spur in package deliveries.

For businesses like large retail stores that generate a substantial amount of cardboard, the rate paid by cardboard recyclers for your uncontaminated waste can range between £60 and £120 per tonne.

How often should my business have its cardboard collected?

The frequency of cardboard collection is typically determined by the availability of your waste collection provider. If your business generates a lot of cardboard waste, a special agreement may be required.

Small businesses can expect weekly or bi-weekly collections, while a large enterprise with a bespoke contract could arrange for daily pick-ups.

Read our guide on commercial waste disposal for more information.