Process of Recycling Cardboard

Cardboard boxes ready for recycling
Cardboard (Image: Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Recycling is one of the easiest and most recognizable ways to go green, and many materials can be recycled, including cardboard. While most people understand how recycling benefits the environment, they may not fully understand the recycling process. People can maximize their recycling efforts once they understand the importance of their role in the process.

Collection

The first step in the cardboard recycling process is collecting the materials to be recycled. Check with your recycling center to see what types of cardboard it accepts and whether it offers curbside pickup. If not, you can take the cardboard to the facility yourself. Businesses should contact the recycling center to have a cardboard recycling bin placed on site to collect boxes.

Sorting

Once the cardboard materials reach the recycling center, they are sorted according to what they're made of. The University of Oregon identifies two types of cardboard for recycling: boxboard and corrugated cardboard. Boxboard includes cereal boxes, cardboard drink containers or any type of thin, non-coated cardboard. Corrugated cardboard refers to the large packing boxes typically used to transport goods.

Pulping

Once the cardboard has been sorted, the materials are soaked in a mixture of water and chemicals designed to break down the paper fibers and create a pulp. According to Being Earthly, once the fibers are thoroughly broken down, they are combined with new pulp, usually from wood chips. This combination strengthens the weakened fibers and eventually helps them to solidify.

Filtering and De-Inking

The pulpy material is moved through a series of filters to strain out foreign materials that may still be present, such as glue or tape. The pulp is put into a flotation device filled with chemicals that strip off inks or dyes. According to the University of Oregon, this stage cleans the pulp thoroughly and prepares it for the finishing stage.

Finishing

During the finishing stage, the cleaned pulp is mixed with virgin materials and dried on a flat conveyor belt or table. As it dries, the material is fed through a machine that squeezes out excess water and helps the fibers to form a solid sheet called a linerboard. According to Being Earthly, the linerboard is shipped to manufacturing companies where it may be used to make new boxboard or corrugated materials.

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