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Sustainable Corrugated Packaging: How to Reuse and Recycle Properly

Why Corrugated is Sustainable

Sustainability is based on the principle that everything we need for survival depends on our natural environment, in one way or another. And it creates and maintains the conditions under which we as humans can co-exist harmoniously with nature now and in the future.

Made predominantly from trees, which are a renewable resource, corrugated packaging is the most recovered packaging material on the planet. It is sustainably manufactured from trees and old recovered corrugated containers with an industry recovery rate hovering around 90% over the last eight years and 96% in 2018 per Corrugated.org. The fiber that is recovered is recycled in order to make new boxes as well as additional paper products. This is a big reason that the average corrugated box is made up of 50% recycled content.

A 78% recovery rate for corrugated easily tops that of other popular packaging material such as plastic, which is recovered at only about 15%. Corrugated, which sometimes gets confused for cardboard, is an incredibly strong and durable material that is economically friendly, recyclable, and renewable, making it the most sustainable packaging option for your packaging needs. If you’re unfamiliar with the differences between corrugated and cardboard, check out our blog Corrugated vs. Cardboard — Understanding the Differences Between These Packaging Materials.

Recycling Corrugated

How It Works

Businesses, retailers, and consumers recycle their used corrugated containers to be created into new ones, but how exactly does the recycling process work after the old corrugated containers (OCCs) are dropped off for recycling?

After the OCCs have been dropped off, they are sorted, compacted, and baled for space-efficient storage. The bales are then transferred to a paper mill where they’re broken down and the corrugated is inserted into a repulper, which can be compared to a large blender. In the repulper, they’re agitated to form a slushy pulp of fiber and water. The contaminants are then removed, and the remaining fiber solution is poured out onto a moving screen that allows the water to drain away, forming a continuous fiber mat. This mat is pressed between rollers to remove any additional water.

The wet, continuous fiber is wound through a dryer where the top and bottom of it contact heated surfaces of drying cylinders, removing any remaining moisture from the paper. Once this process is finished, the paper is rolled up onto a large reel spool where it is then slit and rewound into individual rolls, which is when the recycling process is considered complete. These paper rolls are shipped off to sheet plants to begin their next life as sustainable corrugated packaging.

The Benefits of Recycling

The latest corrugated industry life cycle assessment (LCA) released in June of 2017 confirmed environmental progress through increased efficiency in mill energy systems, increased recovery for recycling, and the use of low-impact fossil fuels. The LCA also found that corrugated packaging recovery reduced the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent from 2006-2014 by keeping corrugated out of landfills. Methane emissions from landfills are a significant contributor to global warming.

Recycling corrugated has a direct and significant impact on the health of our planet. It leads to a decrease in solid waste disposal. Recycled fiber that is reused to make new corrugated packaging without having to use all new raw material. Because old corrugated containers (OCC) are a valuable resource to both paper mills and manufacturers of new corrugated, it can also be a revenue generator.

How to Recycle Corrugated

Each time corrugated material is recycled, the long fibers that it is made of become shorter and shorter. Corrugated material can be recycled anywhere from five to seven times before these fibers become too short to be recycled again, which is when the material is turned into a paper paste to create items such as newspapers or egg cartons.

In order to recycle corrugated material, you’ll need to remove any non-paper packaging material. Examples of this are packing peanuts, styrofoam, air pillows, and foam. Make sure the material is dry, clean, and away from food products as a heavily food-stained box cannot be recycled. Boxes that have been damaged can still be recycled as long as they’re dry and clean. Lastly, flatten your corrugated material or rip it up prior to placing it in a recycling bin.

Reusing Corrugated

The most underrated aspect of corrugated is that in addition to being a renewable material, it is also capable of being reused. The durability and flexibility of the material allow for it to be reused over and over again before eventually being recycled to create new sustainable corrugated packaging.

Typically, corrugated material is used for the shipment of consumer goods. Almost anything you order online will arrive at your doorstep in a corrugated box. Naturally, your attention is immediately drawn to what’s inside the box, but don’t forget about the box itself as well.

Why not take that box, flatten it, and store it away for future use? But first, make sure it’s in solid structural shape before doing so. You’ll want to ensure that the corners and sides are both clean and strong. Once you’ve done so, you can easily flatten it and put it away. If you’re in need of it again at some point in the future, simply take it out, rebuild it, tape it up, and voila, you have yourself a sturdy box once again. One that can even be used for your own shipment needs by simply removing or covering up all old shipping labels and information with your new information.

Not only can you reuse a corrugated box for your shipping needs, but there are also plenty of times to use it for things around the house. Outside of shipping, corrugated boxes are probably used most when moving. How else are you going to transport all of your belongings from your current home to your new home? The most efficient and effective way is through the use of corrugated. In addition to moving, corrugated is also a great material to use for storage. Looking to put away some clothing or items you no longer use on a daily basis? Toss them in a corrugated box and you can easily stack them in the attic, basement, or garage.

Work with the Packaging Experts

For more than 60 years, Jamestown Container has been helping companies use corrugated packaging and other materials to increase sales, better connect with their customers, and become more sustainable and profitable.

Get in touch with us today to learn how we can help you do the same.