Ask the Experts: How Do I Recycle Cardboard?

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Q: How do I recycle cardboard? Does it need to be broken down before being placed in the recycling? Can shiny or waxed cardboard be recycled? 

A: Great question. Cardboard boxes should be broken down before placing them in your recycling container. Flattening the boxes makes it easier for workers and recycling facilities to handle, and they take up less space, making more room in your recycling container (and therefore reducing costs) as they travel to the recycling center. If you can’t fit the cardboard in your cart and can’t wait until the next week to fit it in, flatten and cut it into pieces no larger than 4’ x 4’ and lean them against your recycling container.

However, be mindful that not all cardboard can be recycled. 

  • Food and liquid-soiled cardboard is not recyclable and should not be put in the recycling. Soiled cardboard can ruin otherwise good recyclables and make an entire load of materials unrecyclable. Therefore, food and liquid-soiled cardboard belongs in the garbage. If you can rip or cut off the soiled parts, place those in your garbage container and recycle the clean pieces in your recycling container. 
  • Waxed cardboard cannot be recycled. Waxed cardboard is a multi-layered cardboard coated with plastic and is mostly used by retailers for shipping produce, so unless you’ve brought your groceries home in a produce box, you most likely don’t have it in your home. 
  • Unlike waxed cardboard, paperboard and shiny cardboard can be recycled. Some common examples of items in this category include:
  • Cereal 
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Toothpaste
  • Tissues

If you are not sure whether you are dealing with waxed cardboard or shiny cardboard, simply give it a scratch and see if any waxy residue comes off on your fingernail. 


Now that we know what types of cardboard can be recycled, let’s cover how to break down the boxes: 

1. Remove and separate any extra packaging materials such as plastic foam or bubble wrap. Reuse or place these in the garbage. 

2. Use a box cutter, knife or scissors to cut through any tape or along the edges to flatten the box as much as possible. You do not have to worry about removing tape, staples or adhesives. 

3. Cut or break down until cardboard is flat and can fit into your recycling, then toss it in! If you have more cardboard than your cart will hold, please save any extra for next week’s collection. If it really can’t wait until next week, flatten and cut it into pieces no larger than 4’ by 4’ and lean them against the cart. Tie pieces together with string, twine or packing tape (not duct tape).

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