Growth in e-commerce is dramatically changing supply chain dynamics and as any online shopper will attest, more corrugated boxes are ending up in consumers’ garages than ever before. To the average observer, it might appear that corrugated box production has increased, but that is not the case; the boxes are just more visible to consumers because of home delivery supplanting some of the shipments that traditionally arrived at retail destinations.
Recycling companies are recovering less corrugated from retail establishments as a result of this shifting landscape. A group of corrugated and recycling companies and experts are working together to recover more corrugated from residential recycling programs to make sure that corrugated recycling continues at full throttle, maintaining the industry’s stellar sustainability record.
Building on decades of success
Corrugated “cardboard” has been the most recycled packaging material in the world for decades. In fact, 96 percent of American households have access to curbside or drop-off recycling programs for corrugated, and the recovery rate of old corrugated containers (OCC) increased from 53 percent in 1995 to 93 percent in 2016.
A great deal of recovered OCC has traditionally come from businesses, especially retailers. After receiving truckloads of products packed in corrugated shipping containers, retailers empty the boxes and then compact and bale the OCC, which is picked up by recycling companies. For the retailers, the recovered material generates revenue and reduces landfill disposal costs while also benefiting the environment.
Meanwhile, a majority of residential recycling programs have been accepting OCC since the 1990s. Most community recycling programs ask for consumers to flatten corrugated boxes before placing them in their recycling bins or carts, where they are usually commingled with other recyclables such as plastic and mixed paper. Materials are later separated for processing by recyclers.
Shifting recovery sources
E-commerce has changed the way products travel from point of origin to end use. Many of the bulk/ wholesale shipments traditionally bound for retail facilities are now shipping in single units direct to consumers’ doorsteps — meaning residential recycling programs are more important than ever.
A work group consisting of corrugated packaging and recycling companies are reviewing the current status and challenges facing residential recovery programs to develop recommendations for increasing recovery of OCC.
Resource Recycling Systems (RRS) surveyed more than 1,000 Americans about their residential OCC recycling practices. The new cross-industry work group is basing its recommendations and future planning on the research results, as well as input from experts and stakeholders throughout the infrastructure supply chain.
The group recognized the need for a renewed focus on promoting the recyclability of OCC and agreed to proactively pursue a broad set of initiatives to help increase recovery:
- Promote use of carts instead of bins for curbside collection.
- Support efforts to match the frequency of recycling and trash collection to provide for equal access to recycling.
- Establish clear messages and graphics for household recovery of OCC.
- Develop more direct recycling messages on boxes to remind consumers to recycle.
- Work with additional groups on recycling education.
- Support the development of building codes that make recycling easy for multi-family dwellings.
- Encourage replication of successful multi-family and rural recovery programs.
The work group is led by the Fibre Box Association (FBA) and includes AICC – The Independent Packaging Association, American Forest & Paper Association, AMERIPEN, Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries, Waste Management, and FBA member companies Cascades, Dusobox, Georgia-Pacific, International Paper, Kruger, PCA, Pratt Industries and WestRock.
Learn more at corrugated.org.