July 27, 2018.
Ever wonder what happens to your cardboard boxes when you no longer have use for them? You have a few choices today. If your cardboard goes in the trash, it will end up in a landfill. Sure, it will break down over time, but once underground, it will produce the greenhouse gas methane. There are more concerns about methane in the ozone than carbon dioxide. Trashing your cardboard also needlessly takes up space, water resources, and of course requires more trees, land, and expense to produce future cardboard.
The other choice, recycling, has been made both easy and convenient. Your cardboard rarely goes into trash collection these days, since most cities have recycling programs. A good 90% of everything shipped to homes, stores, and warehouses are done so in cardboard packaging, so getting cardboard out of the waste stream makes a big difference. There are no poisonous components to worry about, so recycling is safe and easy. Cardboard can usually be recycled 5-8 times and what can no longer be recycled effectively after its pulp is too broken down, can be turned into compost which naturally breaks down. A whopping 30% of total inbound recyclables processed are from cardboard. It makes up the largest component of trash, so it’s become big business. Between 50-80% of the cardboard produced across the globe is now created from recycled cardboard.
Two Types of Cardboard
We use the term “cardboard” for two main types of paper packaging.
- Paperboard – Much thinner and less durable, we see paperboard in our homes every day as cereal boxes, gift boxes, paper towel and toilet rolls, pizza boxes, shoe boxes, and greeting cards.
- Corrugated Cardboard – Corrugation describes paper material placed in between two sheets, forming a zig-zag pattern, and used to create boxes. This formation makes the cardboard hard to tear and much sturdier to bear extra weight. Used mostly for shipping, you see this kind of box used for televisions and large appliances, as well as online purchase packaging, in warehouses, and moving boxes. Corrugated cardboard makes up the largest component of solid waste in municipal collections and over 90% of it gets recycled.
The Recycling Process
Since the primary use of recycled cardboard is to create other paper products, let’s look at that recycling process.
- Collection – Most communities collect recyclables through their local municipality, but you might have to bring your recyclables to a facility yourself. If you have a lot, you might want to hire a collection service.
- Sorting –All cardboard and paper is sorted by type and weight. Any paper products with food contamination, like a pizza box, is removed. Consumers who care about making sure their items are recycled should make sure to remove soiled areas before collection. Paper products are baled together and sent to the appropriate papermills for processing.
- Pulping –The paper industry pros refer to papermills as the “end market.” Once at the mill, all types of baled paper, now sorted in batches, get dropped into a “mac-pulper” machine and mixed with water in vats to start the breakdown of fibers and then formed into a paste. Additional chemicals are added to the water mixture to help further break down the paper fibers, creating a loose slurry.
- Removals of Foreign Materials – The slurry moves to a section of the machine called the “re-Pulper.” Mechanisms in the vat catch or sift out contaminants such as tape, strings, plastic, or metal staples. Even ink is removed. At this stage, the remaining completely broken-down fibers are combined with new pulp created from wood chips. This process is important for strengthening and solidifying weakened fibers. Specialized chemicals are added at this stage, which give certain characteristics to the new paper. Chemicals for water resistance might be used for paper meant to be used as a food container, while fire-retarding chemicals are more useful for paper used in drywall.
- Making Noodles – At this point, the pulp contains a great deal of water and gets dried out in many stages. The pulp goes through several roller presses, removing most of the water. Over many further drying conveyers and presses, the pulp develops the correct consistency. The new, drier pulp is called the “noodle.” The noodle is placed in storage containers until need for the next stage.
- Making Paper – In the final stage, the noodle gets mixed to a 90% water blend, into a fine, sprayable consistency. It is then additionally pressed and stirred and pumped through the “octopus,” a series of tubes, and finally into a headbox. From the headbox, the watery mixture gets sprayed onto a mesh cylinder drum. Inside the drum, a powerful vacuum sucks the material onto the outside of the mesh, collecting the water. The drum rotates the remaining sheet of material onto a conveyer to be further compressed between large rollers in order to remove more water. This process forms the paper sheet. The thickness of the paper is determined by how much of the paper sludge is added to these compressed sheets. The conveyer pushes the paper through additional internally-heated rollers, which finish drying the paper. This early product is referred to as the “linerboard.” Once dry, the paper is loaded onto large spools. The final “jumbo reel” of paper is cut to order and shipped to “converter factories” which will continue the process of creation based on the use of the paper. This paper is used for corrugated box cardboard, box board, paperboard, paper lining for drywall, and fiberglass ceiling tiles, or other paper products.
Your cardboard boxes don’t always end up as more boxes or paper products. A smaller percentage can end up as soundproofing material, insulation, furniture, egg cartons, and even clothing or other textiles.
Cardboard Pick Up Service for Recycling
The resource cost of making virgin paper products is surprising. It takes three tons of trees to make only one ton of cardboard. One ton of cardboard takes up nine cubic yards of landfill area. Used cardboard is abundant, easy and safe to recycle, and produces less by-products and chemical waste when using to produce new paper products. It also keeps waste out of the landfills.
You can help this process by choosing and promoting recycled paper products while also sending recyclables to be recycled. If you have a business that collects a lot of cardboard, give Jiffy Junk a call to make sure your cardboard is properly taken care of.