Ensuring the recyclability of anything we use has been a hot topic lately. And when it comes to packaging, corrugated boxes (rightly) have a reputation as being one of the most recyclable packaging materials out there. But they can endure stresses such as improper handling, adverse weather conditions and even contact with chemical substances. So, that raises an important question: in those situations, can you recycle corrugated boxes?

The short answer? Almost always, yes. The longer answer? Still yes, but there are definitely things you should know. Let’s look deeper into those situations, shall we?

Can you recycle used corrugated boxes?

Yup—boxes are made of paper, so they can be recycled. What’s more, new boxes are often made from recycled boxes, creating a circular production feed that reduces the need for more trees. Boxes will eventually biodegrade as well, but recycling them means they stay out landfills and contribute positively to the environment.

The most important thing to remember is that everything needs to be removed from a box before recycling it, otherwise it can hamper the recycling process and harm machinery. Prep corrugated boxes for recycling by removing tape, labels, and staples. Flattening boxes not only takes up less room in a recycling bin but also makes the recycling process easier. Done right, all of this helps to decrease the costs of recycling.

Used corrugated boxes are by far the most common form of corrugated litter. Luckily, they’re recyclable.

Can you recycle printed corrugated boxes?

Absolutely. Most custom boxes—like the ones we make—are completely recyclable. The inks that go into most boxes today tend to be recyclable and treatable, and if not, are at least stripped out during the reclamation process. This ensures boxes that not only look great, but are earth-friendly as well.

However, there are exceptions. If there’s a varnish coating, that should be pulled off and disposed of separately. Very old boxes may have used lead-based or other untreatable inks that render them unable to enter the recycling system. And boxes with glitter on them are not recyclable until the glitter is removed (which may require special treatment to do so).

There’s no denying that printed boxes look great and are loved by customers. It’s a nice bonus that the custom boxes of today are completely recyclable.

Can you recycle soiled corrugated boxes?

That depends. Boxes that have contacted water, dirt or other everyday messes can still be recycled. However, other forms of spoilage can mean those corrugated boxes need to be put in the trash.

When it comes to solvent and chemical messes (such as oil-stains), those boxes can’t be recycled. Oil can’t be filtered out during the recycling process and it’s likely to gum up machinery. For corrugate that contains oil, its best to be reused as a stain catcher (hello, car oil changes at home!), and thrown away when it’s no longer useful.

Boxes can go through a lot in their lifespan. Some come into direct contact with, shall we say, human and animal waste. Corrugated boxes that have stains from waste, blood and other bio-hazards need to be thrown in the garbage immediately. Not only does this prevent issues at the recycling plant, it also stops sicknesses from spreading.

Just because a box is considered dirty doesn’t mean it’s not recyclable. As a rule of thumb, unless it contains chemical stains or poses a bio-hazard, it’s good to be recycled.

Can you recycle pizza boxes?

That’s a bingo! Clean pizza boxes (without grease stains or food residue) can be recycled just like any other used box. And if they’re full of meat and cheese oil? They can be torn up and put into your compost bin. Some progressive manufacturing businesses even take the collected grease-stained boxes and convert them into useful agricultural products.

And Just like all other corrugated boxes, all remnants of food, dips, and plastic need to be removed from pizza boxes before recycling them. To be sure about what you can recycle, please check with your local recycling and composting program.

So, there you have it. A solid rundown on whether you can recycle corrugated boxes or not.

As a rule of thumb, all boxes are inherently recyclable—just know that events over their lifespan can change this fact. It’s important that we recycle corrugated boxes as often as we can, as this reduces tree consumption and the energy output needed to make new ones. Hey, did you know recycled corrugate is not only used to create new corrugated boxes, but also chipboard and paper bags? Sweet.

One last thing. Don’t fret about your already thrown away corrugate. While it won’t be remade into new shipping boxes, it will naturally biodegrade over time. Which is still a big win for this planet.