Reuse Cardboard to Build Forts and Communities

Reduce and Reuse Cardboard

Walking around your neighborhood you probably can see the evidence of our love affair with online shopping.  Boxes stacked and door steps and recycling bins overflow with boxes from online retailers. 

Online shopping grew by 17% last year, with a corresponding 8% jump in cardboard use, and is projected to make up 25% of retail sales by 2025.  But whether you buy online or in stores, 85% of all products sold in the United States are packed in cardboard.

Much of that cardboard is recycled after a single use, making mixed paper, of which cardboard boxes are a major component, the number one material processed in recycling facilities.

When taking cardboard out to the curb, remember Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – in that order. 

1. Reduce

Your best bet to reduce the number of boxes you receive and the time you spend handling them is to change your shipping preferences to consolidate packages. When creating a new online account, ask what options there are for less packaging or reusable packaging for your shipments.

Here are some options for reducing packaging on your Amazon orders:

If you’re ordering multiple items request that they be sent together, which may mean opting out of the fastest free shipping option. You can also limit the frequency of orders by bundling items into a single order and delivery.

  • Email Amazon’s customer service to request that a note is added in your account to avoid plastic/extra packaging when possible. Distributors will see your preference and should pack your boxes accordingly.
  • Check out Amazon’s Frustration-Free Packaging Service. The program sends your item without – essentially – a box around a box. 

2. Reuse

Reuse boxes for storage, shipping or moving, and offer excess boxes to your neighbors. Not only will you extend the life of the box, but you’ll expand your community by meeting new neighbors. Post about free boxes on Facebook, NextDoor, Craigslist, Freecycle or other community boards to help people find them. U-Haul even offers an online exchange for boxes:

You can also repurpose boxes into new items like play equipment for children or pets and functional household items like drawer or closet organizers.

3. Recycle

While 90% of corrugated packaging gets recycled, most of it from the commercial sector, the leftover 10% still adds up. Be sure to recycle any clean and dry boxes that you don’t have a use for by removing any extra packaging material (paper or plastics) and flattening boxes before putting them into your recycling bin.

If some of your boxes have become contaminated with fluids or food, consider these options:

  • Tear boxes into smaller pieces and compost them at home.
  • Use cardboard as a weed blocker in your garden or yard. Cover the cardboard with mulch, compost, leaf litter or woodchips.

Recycling one ton of cardboard (or other paper products) would:

  • Save enough energy to power the average American home for six months.
  • Save 7,000 gallons of water.
  • Save 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one metric ton of carbon equivalent (MTCE).

4. Buy Recycled

Cardboard is manufactured from cellulose fibers extracted primarily from trees. Whenever possible, support companies and retailers that use cardboard made from recycled material, which not only saves trees, but also large amounts of water and energy.