What is the Cardboard Recycling Process?

A report released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs earlier this year revealed that British households produce over 26m tonnes of waste each year, equating to around 260 large-sized cruise ships. Of this, 12m tonnes of waste are recycled, and 14m tonnes are sent to landfill sites – giving the UK an average recycling rate of 45%. Although this is a move in the right direction, there is still an abundance of waste which deteriorates the quality and health of our environment. The UK aims to recycle 50% of all its household waste including packaging.

We have created this guide to the cardboard recycling process in support of these aims – raising public awareness and understanding of how to recycle as a means of encouraging better social waste management practices.

The Cardboard Recycling Process

  1. The cardboard is sorted and shredded
  2. It is mixed with water and pulped
  3. The pulp is filtered
  4. More water is added
  5. The mixture is rolled and dried
  6. Sheets are converted to new cardboard

1.      The cardboard is sorted and shredded

Before cardboard can be recycled, it needs to be prepared. The first step is to sort between the different boards, making a distinction between boxboard (single-layer), and corrugated (single wall, double wall, and die-cut boxes).

Sorting is a vital part of the cardboard recycling process, as not all types of cardboard are created in the same way. Different types of cardboard are made from different materials, which can only be recycled into specific products.

Once the different types of cardboard have been sorted, they can then be shredded into smaller pieces for the later stages of the cardboard recycling process.  

2.      It is mixed with water and pulped

The next stage of the cardboard recycling process is pouring the shredded cardboard material into big tanks to be mixed with water. This process breaks down the cardboard and is known as ‘pulping’. The process softens the cardboard and starts to make it into something that can be used further as a material for new products.

3.      The pulp is filtered

Waste cardboard is rarely ever 100% cardboard. It is nearly always combined and mixed up with foreign materials, such as tape, staples, and plastic packaging. Centrifugal systems are implemented to separate the different materials based on their relative weight. Magnets also help to remove metal items, no matter how small.

Only after the ‘filtering’ process has been completed will the pulp be suitable for storage until it is needed to make future cardboard.

4.      More water is added

The fourth step in the cardboard recycling process is that once the material is required for manufacturing, it is again mixed with water, pressed, and stirred. This process aids in achieving the right material consistency for further use down the line. The duration of this stage is highly dependent on the kind of cardboard packaging that is being manufactured and the materials being used. At this point, chemicals can be added, as a means of giving the mix additional characteristics – such as water resistance.

5.      The mixture is rolled and dried

At the beginning of this fifth stage of the cardboard recycling process, the mixture can contain up to 90% water, and therefore needs to be treated further before it can be transformed into anything useful. A range of techniques can help at this stage, whether it be vacuum rollers, vibrating conveyor belts, and steam heating.

Pressing the sheet through rollers contributes toward turning the sheet into something that resembles paper. The rollers are also used to add additional layers to the cardboard, depending on how thick it is required to be.

6.      Sheets are converted to new cardboard

By the end of the cardboard recycling process, you will have huge reels of brown paper, weighing up to several tonnes. Once produced, these can then be cut to size and layered to make thicker cardboard as desired.

In the case of corrugated cardboard, the central sheets of brown paper are taken through rolls with teeth rather than smooth surfaces – giving them a crinkled, ridge shape, that will provide additional strength to the type of cardboard that we use for recycled cardboard boxes.

The recycling processes can vary depending on the recycling plant and the paper factory in question, but the basic steps remain the same: sorting, shredding, pulping, filtering, drying, pressing, and rolling. 

Which Cardboard Items Can Be Recycled?

  • Cardboard boxes, e.g. cereal, dishwasher tablets and egg boxes.
  • Corrugated cardboard with plastic, polystyrene and tape inserts removed
  • Greeting cards with any glitter sections or batteries removed.
  • Online delivery boxes and cardboard envelopes
  • Toilet and kitchen roll tubes – these can also be home composted

Which Cardboard Items Cannot Be Recycled?

  • Glitter covered greeting cards
  • Card that contains food residue, dirt or paint

Recycling Cardboard with Perfection Box

Perfection box specialises in cardboard box manufacturing and packaging supplies. We are one of the leading cardboard box manufacturers in the West Midlands and prioritise providing you with the perfect solution to your packaging, and paper and cardboard recycling needs. With 20 years of experience, you can be sure to receive fast, reliable service from your initial order, all the way to manufacturing and dispatch. The future of cardboard packaging is now, with innumerable benefits for using sustainable packaging.

All of our boxes are recyclable and can be supplied as a standard order within a 24-hour window. If you have packaging requirements that need to be reliably fulfilled or have any further questions regarding the processes mentioned above, then please do not hesitate to get in touch! Our team would love to hear from you and would be more than happy to help.