Recycling Corrugated Cardboard

Recycling old corrugated cardboard (OCC) can be economically beneficial for business and industry, and it can be easily targeted in any recycling program. North Carolina companies are at various stages in establishing cardboard recycling programs: while many have well-established programs, others are just beginning to initiate a program or are evaluating whether to bale cardboard for better cost control.

In general, recycling markets for OCC are well established, and restrictions such as landfill ordinances increase the urgency to recycle. Below are some options for managing waste cardboard and general guidelines for baling cardboard on-site.

The OCC Problem

Old corrugated cardboard makes up a significant percentage of landfilled waste. Studies in Wake County show that OCC comprised 26 percent of the commercial/industrial/institutional waste stream and 18 percent of all municipal solid waste entering the county's landfills in 1992. In efforts to reduce landfilled waste, several counties and cities have enacted ordinances to ban or place surcharges on waste loads containing OCC. Other municipalities are planning similar restrictive ordinances. The Office of Waste Reduction can provide current restriction ordinances or resolutions in place for the local government units.

Managing OCC

Even if there is no local ordinance concerning OCC, a company avoids disposal costs and keeps recyclables out of the landfill by recycling. When it comes to managing cardboard, consider the following:

Establishing a Cardboard Recycling Program

There are many ways to establish an OCC recycling program. The cardboard may be collected loose or baled. It can be picked up or delivered to a local recycler. An OCC recycler will work with you to set up logistics that best meet your needs.

To locate an OCC recycler, (1) contact the local municipality or county recycling coordinator, (2) look under "Recycling Centers" in the telephone book, or (3) contact the Office of Waste Reduction in Raleigh at (919) 715-6500 or 1-800-763-0136.

Determining the Amount of OCC Generated

Many companies are surprised to find out how much cardboard they generate. The chart below lists estimated weights of loose OCC in containers of different sizes at 100 percent of capacity.

Estimated Weights of Loose, Flattened Cardboard Boxes

Container Size
100% Full
40 6,000
30 4,500
20 3,000
8 1,200
6 900

To Bale or Not To Bale

While many businesses recycle loose OCC, the economics of baling the cardboard should be evaluated. The first step in making such a determination is to get acceptable bale sizes and purchase prices from the local OCC recycler. If the cardboard is currently selling at $0.50 per 100 pounds ($10 per ton) in a loose form, this same cardboard in baled form may bring $20 per ton. Savings may also result from avoided hauling costs, by baling several materials for recycling, or by sharing a baler with another company. The following are some general guidelines.

Vertical Balers
Bale weight
Feed Opening
Bale Volume
Average List Price
300 36 x 15 15 4,750 5
800 48 x 28 47.5 7,600 10
1,000 60 x 28 50 8,900 10
1,200 72 x 28 60 9,700 10
1,500 72 x 32 84 20,000 15
Horizontal Balers
Bale weight
Feed Opening
Bale Volume
Average List Price
1,200 28 x 50 52 25,000 25
1,500 46 x 50 57 35,000 30
2,000 45 x 60 64 45,000 40

Determining Other Costs of Baling

Note that other recyclable materials such as plastic film wrap, textile scraps, and other plastics can also be baled. The equipment investment may well pay for itself with the added value you'll receive from baled materials.

Take a close look at the cardboard recycling program at your facility. Don't get caught in the squeeze of high disposal costs without knowing all your recycling options. Call the Office of Waste Reduction at (919) 715-6500, FAX (919) 715-6794, or e-mail OWR for assistance with your waste management program.

The North Carolina Office of Waste Reduction provides free, non-regulatory technical assistance on methods to eliminate, reduce, or recycle wastes before they become pollutants or require disposal.

Case Study: Company Z

An Example of Cost Avoidance and Cost Savings From a Corrugated Cardboard Recycling Program

Company Z manufactures widgets for sale nationwide. Many of its raw materials come packaged in corrugated cardboard boxes. In fact, cardboard represents half the company's waste. Company Z rents a 30-yd3 roll-off container from a private waste hauler for $50 a month. The hauler takes full loads from the company to the landfill once a week and charges $70 per haul. Company Z is charged a tipping fee of $20 per ton at the landfill; each of its loads weighs about 4 tons.

Current Waste Costs for Company
Total annual waste stream: 52 weeks x 4 tons/wk. 208 tons
Total annual tipping fees: 208 tons x $20/ton $4,160
Total annual container rent: 12 months x $50/month $600
Total annual hauling costs: 52 weeks x $70/haul $3,640
Total Annual (external) Waste Handling Costs $8,400
(Total annual costs if tipping fee is $40/ton) $12,560

After examining its waste stream and current waste costs, Company Z decides to buy a baler to recycle its cardboard. The Company works with the local recycling coordinator to help institute the program and to find a market for the cardboard. Company Z realizes that recycling entails some costs but sees recycling as a way to avoid even bigger costs in the long run.

Annual "Cost" of Recycling for Company Z
Annualized cost of purchase and installation of baler
($7,500 divided by 5 years; baler lasts 12 years)
Cost of baling wire per year for cardboard baler 210
Annual cost of electricity and maintenance of baler 400
Added personnel operating costs of using baler (Two hours/wk at $8/hr) 830
Avoided hauling fees (No. of hauls cut in half) (1,820)
Avoided tipping fees (at $20/ton) (2,080)
Revenue from sale of cardboard ($10/ton) (1,040)
Total cost (savings) from recycling ($2,000)

In addition, Company Z has saved 200 yd3 of space in the landfill, thereby helping the county stave off the day when it must find a new landfill. The recycling of 104 tons of paper has also saved about 1,750 trees, saved water, helped prevent air and water pollution, and saved 426,000 kWh of energy.

Buoyed by its success, Company Z re-examined its waste stream and discovered other items to recycle such as office paper, metal bands, film plastic, aluminum cans, and pallets. Company Z once more contacted the local recycling coordinator for assistance in finding markets for these items.

Industrial Pollution Prevention Section. March 1994.