Working in waste reduction and recycling, we receive many frequently asked questions (FAQs) about waste stream management, from customers ranging in size from small businesses to enterprises. One topic of particular interest and intrigue is OCC recycling and rebates – namely, What is it? How does it work? And, can you actually make money out of cardboard?

The answers to these questions are no secret, so I’ve decided to start posting my responses to such FAQs on our blog, in case they might be of help to others who are curious or confused.

What is OCC, and how is it different from cardboard?

Old Corrugated Containers, commonly referred to in the industry as OCC, consists of used boxes, containers or other packaging made from unbleached, un-waxed paper with a ruffled, or corrugated, inner liner. These corrugated materials, also called containerboard, are used for things like pizza or shipping boxes. If you tear a corrugated box, you’ll see there are really three layers to the material, with one layer that is rigid.

While OCC may sound and seem a lot like cardboard, there is, in fact, a difference between the two. Cardboard is a heavy-duty paper stock used for things like cereal boxes or smaller packages. Both are recyclable, but they may garner different recycling values on the commodities market.

Should my business recycle OCC, and why?

Convenience stores, grocery stores, retailers, manufacturers and so many other industries rely heavily on OCC and cardboard packaging, which results in tons of waste. Removing that bulky OCC and cardboard from your trash or dumpster increases container space and reduces the cost and frequency of trash pickups – saving your business money. That’s why the majority of commercial recycling is made up of discarded OCC and cardboard – because all that material is recyclable, and valuable if you have the right volume.

In fact, OCC and cardboard is the easiest material to recycle for rebates. If your business is collecting volumes of 5 tons/month or more, rebates may be available to you. Waste and recycling service providers, like Rubicon, can help your business navigate the fluctuating commodity market prices and regulatory policies to make sure your business gets the maximum value for its discarded OCC materials. Not only will you be keeping waste out of landfills, but also, you’ll be generating a new revenue stream out of your waste stream.

If I stop putting OCC in my dumpster, how and where do I store it?

Storing OCC paper and recycling all depends on the volume your business produces and the space available at your location. Some businesses require large baling equipment, while others may just use a compactor. Each comes with its own set of benefits, and your waste provider can work with you to identify the right equipment to implement your recycling program with ease.

Balers can be expensive, but they also maximize trailer weight for the highest potential rebates and help you save on transportation costs. Some businesses with limited space may consider a smaller than standard bale, or a vertical baler, but we always recommend a standard bale size.

Though it may be tempting to switch from a 1,000lb baler to a 150lb version, the smaller bales are typically not worth a pickup from a processing facility. Waste providers like Rubicon will help you take a close look at your overall waste production to see if bailing is the best option for your business.

In addition to identifying the right type of equipment, it’s important to make sure your OCC is clean and dry before recycling. You’ll want to remove excessive amounts of plastic tape/ packing tape, wood pieces, and metal (although staples are okay). Wax, mud, and dirt won’t be accepted, and some recycling facilities consider tubes and cores a contaminant, like the “tube” that protects a rolled poster or the “core” that holds gift wrap or tape. The more you can make your cardboard “mill ready,” the more value you’ll earn.

Finally, the value of OCC recycling comes in the strength and quality of its fibers. The wetting of material can weaken the fibers and reduce the value. If it does get wet, try to set it out to dry before adding it to your recycling. One perk to baling your OCC is the ability to store the bales outside. Though the outer layer may get wet, the rest of it remains dry. Loose cardboard should be stored inside.

Final thoughts

If you weren’t equipped to tackle your OCC recycling, you are now! Generally, the benefits of handling the recycling process responsibly can create more environmentally friendly choices and, even, allow for occ recycled paper products to live a second life rather than going straight to a landfill.

If all else fails, don’t hesitate to contact a waste provider who can assist you in making the best decisions for your specific OCC solutions.

Interested in more data-driven waste and recycling solutions? Check out our blog to stay connected to the latest in waste and recycling!

Got more questions related to OCC recycling or other waste streams? Download our Waste Stream Management Guide or tune in to the next edition of Dear Ashby.