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This article is part of Rubicon’s Spring Greening series, where you can learn how to green up your cleanup this spring.

Did you know that cardboard is one of the easiest materials to recycle? As long as it’s kept clean, dry, and free from contaminants like oil and grease, cardboard can be recycled approximately 5-7 times; which is a boon given that it takes three tons of trees to create one ton of new (virgin) cardboard.

What most people refer to as a cardboard (the two layers of linerboard with a rippled layer sandwiched in the middle), we in the waste and recycling industry call old call old corrugated cardboard (OCC). For the sake of this article, we’ll refer to OCC recycling as cardboard recycling.

According to data collected by the American Forest & Paper Association, there were 50.48 million tons of paper recycled in 2021 for a recycling rate of 68 percent, a rate on par with the highest rate previously achieved. The recycling rate for OCC is more impressive, with the American Forest & Paper Association reporting an OCC recycling rate of 91.4 percent in 2021.

If your business creates a large amount of cardboard recycling and you want to find out how to properly store, bale, and transport it, or if you find yourself throwing your cardboard in the trash because you never create enough to make a cardboard recycling pickup worth the cost, read on to find out how Rubicon can help you recycle your business’s cardboard in the circular economy.

How is Cardboard Recycled?

The cardboard recycling process starts the moment you receive a cardboard box from your supplier. In order for a cardboard box to be recycled and turned back into another cardboard box, this is the process it must go through:

Collection and Storage

Depending on the size of your business, you should store the cardboard boxes (and other cardboard recycling) you receive in a holding area such as a warehouse or back room.

If your business produces a significant amount of cardboard recycling each collection period, you may want to look into having a cardboard baler on site. These balers can compress your cardboard to ensure that it is as compact as possible. This results in less space being needed each time it is collected, which is good for the environment and good for your company’s bottom line.


After your cardboard has been transported to a recycling center it will be sorted to ensure that any foreign objects, such as glass, plastic, or metal are removed. For cardboard recycling to be affordable, sorting at this level must be kept to a minimum, which is why it’s essential that businesses and residents recycling alike sort their recycling ahead of time. If any contaminated cardboard is included in the load, such as greasy pizza boxes, these must also be removed.

The collection of pure cardboard recycling will then be sorted based on the type of cardboard it is, whether it is OCC, boxboard, paperboard, and more, before it moves on to the most important stage of the cardboard recycling process.


After the cardboard recycling has been sorted it is sent to a pulper where any packing tape, stickers, or labels will be removed, and it is mixed with water until it is broken down into a pulp. This pulp is then dried, pressed, and mixed multiple times over to get it to the appropriate consistency.

It’s for this reason why it’s perfectly fine for cardboard recycling to get wet as the result of a light drizzle or morning dew. At the same time, don’t allow your cardboard to get soaked before it is transported, as this will make it difficult to physically pick up and move the material.

Sanitation and Shaping

At this stage fresh pulp (made up of wood chips) is mixed in with the recycled cardboard pulp to ensure that the recycled material will be strong enough after it is turned into recycled cardboard. Chemicals are also added to ensure that the resulting cardboard has an appropriate level of water resistance.

Now with a water consistency of approximately 90 percent, the cardboard paste is thinned and dried multiple times until it achieves the correct consistency, after which it is dried one final time and shaped to the required size, before being rolled onto a large reel. These reels are then ready to be converted back into cardboard items within the same facility, or they are transported to an outside converter factory.

Rubicon’s Cardboard (OCC) Recycling Solution

At Rubicon®, we help businesses large and small find appropriate recycling solutions for all of their waste streams in order to keep as much material out of landfills as possible, and live by our mission to end waste, in all of its forms. (If you’re wondering what you can recycle, we have you covered.)

If you have any questions, or you are interested in how we can help improve your cardboard recycling efforts, please reach out to Rubicon’s Circular Solutions team directly at circularsolutions@rubicon.com.

Jackie Beason is Director of Commodity Sales at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

Spring Greening icon

This article is part of Rubicon’s Spring Greening series, where you can learn how to green up your cleanup this spring.