Can You Recycle Wet Cardboard?

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Wet cardboard cannot be recycled due to the degradation of its fibers when wet, which compromises the integrity and quality needed for the recycling process. Additionally, moisture often leads to contamination from other substances, like oils or food residues, making it unsuitable for the clean paper stream required in recycling facilities.

Recycling cardboard is a crucial part of reducing waste and promoting environmental sustainability. However, not all cardboard can be recycled similarly, particularly when it comes to wet cardboard. Understanding the reasons behind this and knowing how to recycle cardboard properly is essential.

1. Why Wet Cardboard is Problematic:


When cardboard gets wet, it often becomes contaminated with whatever substances it comes into contact with, such as oils, food, or other non-recyclable materials. This contamination can render the cardboard unsuitable for the recycling process.

Quality Degradation

Wet cardboard fibers break down and weaken, making them less valuable in recycling. Recyclers seek strong fibers to create new products, and wet or soggy cardboard compromises this quality.

Machinery Issues

In recycling facilities, wet cardboard can cause problems with machinery. It doesn’t break down as easily as dry cardboard in the pulping process and can clog machines or make sorting more difficult.

2. Exceptions and Considerations:

Light Moisture

If the cardboard is only slightly damp and clean, it might still be recyclable. Check with your local recycling center for their specific guidelines.

Climate and Location Factors

In some areas, especially those with high humidity, slightly wet cardboard might still be accepted. Again, local recycling policies will dictate this.

Proper Cardboard Recycling

1. Preparation:

  • Store cardboard in a dry place to prevent it from getting wet.
  • Breaking down and flattening cardboard boxes saves space and makes recycling more efficient.
  • Tape, labels, and other non-paper attachments should be removed as they can hinder the recycling process.

2. Sorting:

  • Corrugated cardboard (used for shipping boxes) and paperboard (used for cereal boxes, shoe boxes, etc.) are recyclable but may need to be sorted separately.
  • Recycling protocols can vary by location, so it’s important to understand your local recycling center's requirements.

3. Curbside Recycling:

  • Most municipalities provide recycling bins for curbside collection. Ensure cardboard is placed in the correct bin according to local guidelines.
  • Know the pick-up schedule and rules, like maximum sizes or weights for cardboard pieces.

4. Drop-off Locations:

  • Some areas have dedicated recycling centers where you can take larger quantities of cardboard.
  • Specialized facilities may handle bulk or commercial recycling for large amounts or specific types of cardboard.

5. Special Cases:

  • Pizza Boxes: Often a point of confusion, pizza boxes can be recycled if they are free from food residue and grease. If only the top is clean, you can separate it from the greasy bottom and recycle the clean part.
  • Waxed Cardboard: This cardboard type, often used for produce boxes, has a non-recyclable wax coating in traditional cardboard recycling. However, some facilities might accept it separately.

Options for Cardboard That Can't Be Recycled


Wet or contaminated cardboard can often be composted. This is an excellent way to repurpose cardboard into nutrient-rich soil.

Creative Reuse:

Cardboard can be used for various creative projects, from DIY storage solutions to children’s crafts. Cardboard can be used as a weed barrier in gardens or as a composting material.

Community Programs:

Some communities have programs for reusing or repurposing materials that are not traditionally recyclable.

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Recycling cardboard is more than just a task; it's a commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship.

While wet cardboard poses challenges to the recycling process, understanding these challenges and knowing how to prepare and sort cardboard for recycling properly can significantly impact it. By following these guidelines, we can play a part in reducing waste and conserving resources.

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