We all buy stuff, and we need things we want, but unwanted packaging and boxes often end up in our homes.
While a conscious resident of this planet had best shun consumerism in all its forms, there will always remain some essential things that we will need to buy. And one unwanted by-product of buying things is the boxes they come in.
When you buy something, nine out of ten times, it will come inside some sort of packaging. This is especially true for online shopping, where the packaging is even more important because the product is shipped to you.
But once you take your purchase out, there is no use anymore for the box it came in. No matter how costly or useful the item is, the box had only one job, to get your product safely to you. And once that is done, it becomes useless.
Now comes a dilemma, you needed whatever it was you bought, you are going to put it to good use, but what about the box? Fret not, for there are a lot of ways in which you can recycle such boxes. Read on to find out.
Different Types of Boxes
Before we start talking about recycling them, we need to know about the material we will recycle. Many different types of boxes end up in your house, and they don’t recycle equally.
Wood boxes are much sturdier than cardboard and are used to pack very fragile or squishy objects. You will often see wood boxes at the farmer’s market being used to store oranges. Fragile items like cutlery are also stored and transported using wooden boxes.
Some products, especially food items, often come in plastic boxes. We also use plastic bins as storage options, which may, in time, need to be recycled.
Cardboard is by and large the most widely used material for making packaging boxes, and it’s made from plant fiber, just like paper. While cardboard is a cheap and efficient packaging solution that is used in every corner of the world, it also means that hundreds of thousands of trees are cut down every year for its production.
Corrugated boxes make up the bulk of the cardboard boxes used for commercial packaging. Corrugated boxes have three layers of paper inside their walls: two flat outer layers and one wavy layer in the middle. This is a little marvel of material engineering and makes the corrugated box one of the sturdiest boxes while also using fewer resources.
Corrugated boxes store bulk stuff in warehouses, shipping, and retail outlets to pack their products.
These are made of thick cardboard called paperboard to give them strength. Though they are thick, they can be torn more easily than corrugated cardboard. They cannot be folded and are usually used to pack high-end products such as mobile phones. Shoeboxes are also a common example of rigid boxes.
Folding boxes are made from a single piece of cardboard, folded into the shape of a box. These are mostly used by retail outlets to pack light and non-fragile items. Boxes you get when you buy takeout are of this kind, mostly recyclable.
Telescopic boxes expand to hold their contents, and retailers mostly pack their products.
These are also sturdy boxes, made of thick paper which is at least 250 GSM in grammage. They are usually used as cigarette boxes or to pack food items. Boxboard cartons are often laminated to make them water-resistant, but this lamination also renders them unrecyclable.
These boxes have multiple layers and are often lined with plastic to make them aseptic. They are used to store food items such as juice, soup, or baby food.
Tetra packs are a common example of aseptic boxes. Though they are useful for keeping food fresh, they cannot be recycled because of the aseptic layers.
These are used for storing and packing fragile items like eggs. They are often made from recycled paper and are easily recyclable themselves.
These are mostly seen in offices and not used for packaging. Rather they store files and documents and usually have handles on both ends for easy lifting.
How to Recycle Boxes?
There are two ways you can recycle the numerous boxes that collect in your home over time. You can make them into something useful or creative, or you can send them to the recycler.
Let’s look at both of these ways one by one.
1. Use your boxes to store things
Boxes are meant for storing, and the simplest and most useful way to reuse them is to turn them into storage for your home. If you mean to keep them someplace they won’t be seen, such as in a closet or your garage, you can use them as they are.
But if you are keeping them in sight of guests or visitors, as in your living room, you may want to decorate them with colorful wrapping or tape.
2. Turn your boxes into greeting cards
Today we are used to communicating through digital means, but the sweetness of a handwritten card is special. And you do not need to buy new cards to send, that is again quite wasteful.
Instead, use the old cardboard boxes you have lying around and your creativity to create beautiful cards.
Another thing you could do is use the boxes of the gifts someone sends you to make thank you cards for them.
3. Make toys from your old boxes
Model cars, animal cutouts, castles, and board games- these are just a few of the ways you can turn a box into something for your little one to play with.
Better, make these toys with your child, and spend some quality time together doing it. They will also like the toys better if they helped make those toys.
4. Make planters from your boxes
One great way to reuse your boxes is to turn them into planters, and maybe a little compensation for the trees that had to die to make the box. To make a planter, take an open-sided box, or cut open one side, line it with a plastic bag, punch a few holes and fill it with soil. You can also paint and decorate it if you want to.
5. Make coasters from boxes
Cut your cardboard boxes into desired shapes, paint and decorate them, maybe add a few embellishments, and voila! You have beautiful coasters for your drinks.
6. Turn your boxes into the decor
Using your boxes to make decor for your home is one of the most beautiful ways to reuse a box. And the options you have are only limited by your imagination.
You can make wall hangings, table decor, photo frames, and so much more. Search online for designs or just make whatever you want to make. You can even make decorations for a party using cardboard from your boxes.
7. Make a magazine rack from your boxes
Cut tall boxes like cereal boxes in a diagonal fashion, cover them with decorative paper or any designs of your choice, and use them to store your magazines.
8. Turn your boxes into compost
Since cardboard is fully degradable, you can turn it into compost for your garden. Add the cardboard to your composting bin. You can also use cardboard as mulch for controlling weeds in your garden.
Put the cardboard on the ground where weeds tend to grow and sprinkle it with water. Within a few days, you will have mulch that will solve your weeb problems.
9. Make drawer dividers from your boxes
If your drawers are always getting messed up, you can make your life easier by using drawer dividers to keep your stuff organized.
Old cardboard boxes are perfect for this purpose. Cut the cardboard box into appropriate sizes, fit them inside your drawers and watch your life get easier.
10. Make a playhouse for your cat from boxes
We talked about making toys for your children, what about your furry children? If you have a few boxes lying around, you can easily create a playhouse for your cat that they will love.
Another way you can recycle boxes is by simply sending them to the recycler. Almost all the boxes that are made of cardboard are recyclable. In fact, cardboard can be recycled up to seven times, and most curbside recyclers accept them.
At the recycling plant, the boxes are shredded and then made into a kind of slurry. This slurry can then be processed into many things, like egg cartons, cereal boxes, rigid board, tissues, paper towels, writing paper, and even more corrugated cardboard.
How to Know Which Boxes are Recyclable?
As said before, cardboard is just plant fiber, and hence by definition, it is recyclable. However, boxes that are lined with plastic film, coated with wax, or covered with velvet and foil are not accepted by recyclers.
Food boxes, usually pizza boxes, are also often not accepted by recyclers because they may be contaminated with grease or food pieces.
In such cases, you can cut off the clean parts and throw the rest away.
However, it is a good idea to look for the recycling symbol, three arrows folding in on themselves, and ask your local recycler if they accept certain boxes.
How to Prepare Your Boxes for Recycling?
You need to follow a few steps to ensure your recycler does not face problems handling your waste.
1. Separate your recyclable boxes if your local program requires it
This applies to cardboard boxes and other recyclables like plastics, glass, and metal. Some municipalities require you to separate the different recyclable waste yourself, while others might do it themselves using machines or employees.
2. Keep your recyclable boxes as clean as possible
If your box is dirty, it can end up contaminating a whole batch of recycled material. It would be best always to keep your recyclables as clean as possible. Look out for food boxes as they may have grease or ketchup in them.
3. Break your boxes down before recycling
Some recyclers require that you flatten your boxes before you hand them to them, along with removing any bubble wrap or other plastic packing material from inside the box.
Even if you are not required to break your boxes down makes them easier to store and carry to the curbside recycler.
4. Store your boxes in a dry place
Often recyclers won’t accept wet cardboard boxes, and this is because moisture weakens cardboard fibers and makes them less valuable for recycling. Wet cardboard also has more weight.
Always keep your cardboard boxes in a place that is dry and protected from the elements.
5. Check with your local recycler or municipality
Be sure to check with your local recycler or municipality if there are any other things you need to keep in mind while recycling boxes.
Some recyclers require you to remove the labels and stickers, while others do not. Some only accept boxes that have been flattened and tied or taped together to handle them in windy conditions.
Recycling boxes make sure they do not end up in landfills and cause pollution. Considering cardboard, the material most widely used to make packaging boxes, is so easily recyclable it makes no sense to throw boxes away.
Recycling boxes also saves trees that would be otherwise cut down to make new boxes. And since recycling requires less water and energy than producing new boxes, you are also conserving water and energy this way.
Apart from sending them to the recycler, you can also use old boxes for myriad purposes in your home, from storage to composting to decor. If you are sending them to a recycler, be sure to follow their instructions in preparing and handling your old boxes.