Old Corrugated Cardboard Recycling

cardboard recycling
Cardboard recycling reached a record high in 2015. Stephanie Grewel, Getty Images

Post-use corrugated packaging material is commonly known as “cardboard,", while it is typically referred to as OCC or Old Corrugated Cardboard/ Containers to industry insiders. Very  often, recycling and waste haulers use the term OCC in reference to cardboard. Corrugated cardboard can easily be recognized by its multiple layer structure; the fluted or wavy middle layer between sheets of paper keeps corrugated board light and gives it the strength to carry products.

Cardboard is a very useful packaging material for easy transportation of many different types of products. If OCC is kept dry and clean, recycling is straightforward as long as all non-paper materials such as bubble wrap, wood skids, plastic bags, plastic wrapping and Styrofoam are removed.

Corrugated Cardboard Production and Recycling Statistics

According to the American Forest & Paper Association, over 51 million tons of paper and paperboard were recovered for domestic and export use in 2015, translating into a record recycling rate of 66.8 percent. For OCC, the rate is a much more impressive 92.9 percent in 2015, according to the Corrugated Packaging Alliance, also a record high. On average, a corrugated box contains roughly 50 percent recycled fiber. Around 51 percent of OCC is used to make new corrugated board, will 11.5 percent is used for boxboard materials, such as cereal boxes. Around 32 percent of recycled OCC is exported.

The size and type of business can have a strong bearing on OCC generation. Studies suggest that this material can represent as much as 40 percent or more of solid waste in a retail establishment and 15 percent or more of solid waste generated in an office setting. A small convenience store is estimated to produce between 700-1000 lbs of OCC per month, while grocery supermarkets generate between 8-30 tons, and department stores 8-20 tons during that time span.


Benefits of OCC Recycling

There are a number of benefits to recycling OCC instead of discarding it. Recycling OCC reduces energy and water usage, while cutting the production of greenhouse gas and certain air pollutants like total reduced sulfur (TRS), volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), and hazardous air pollutants (HAP). The recycling cardboard also reduces demand for virgin timber. It takes approximately three tons of trees to manufacture just one ton of virgin cardboard. Recycling helps reduce waste tipping fees as well. The recycling of one ton of cardboard saves more than nine cubic yards of landfill space.

Methods of Handling OCC

Before being placed in the storage containers, however, corrugated boxes should be opened and flattened. As well, harmful contaminants must be removed.  This ensures better space utilization as well as that the material is clean and ready for recycling. Ensure that the container is accessible to haulers for pickup.

To bale or not to bale is an important decision in OCC recycling. For small businesses which generate a comparatively small amount of OCC, bundling OCC manually, storing the loose OCC in a suitable container and having it collected by a hauler is ideal.

On the other hand, businesses which generate a large amount of OCC should use large storage containers and compact or bale it using an industrial baler for the efficient transportation of OCC to recycling centers.  One emerging technology is the use of shredding in combination with compaction or baling to increase the density of material for transport.

Old Corrugated Cardboard Recycling Process

Recycling corrugated containers is straightforward. It involves diverting old cardboard from waste stream, the elimination of contaminants, and the flattening or compressing of material to promote ease of handling, storing, delivering the stock to a paper production mill or processor where it is processed into different paper products such as recycled paperboard, the center fluting of corrugated boxes, and as unbleached craft paperboard.

Selling OCC

Depending upon the amount of OCC generated, the selling relationship will vary. Large generators may deal directly with paper companies, while mid-level generators may deal with recycling companies, and very small generators may sell to smaller operators acting to aggregate material for sale.  No matter how much OCC is generated, it is important to recycle.

Guarding Against Theft

In recent years, there have been increased reports of cardboard or OCC theft, and steps can be taken to reduce the risk of OCC theft.