How many times can a box be recycled? A great, but complex question.

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Corrugated boxes are a valuable form of packaging with a wide range of benefits. They protect the contents, keep the package safe during delivery, and provide necessary information about the product inside.

But one of the other benefits of corrugated boxes is its ability to be recycled and reused repeatedly.

Recycling corrugated boxes and other paper packaging is essential to the paper packaging industry’s circular economy. Contrary to some of the myths that are out there, the three major paper packaging grades made in Canada are made up of mostly recycled content. Once paper packaging is used by the consumer, it is collected and recycled, and the recycled material goes back to the mill so it can be remade into new paper-based packaging. And the cycle repeats itself again and again.

When you recycle, you are helping to directly contribute to the next life and reuse of discarded paper packaging. But have you ever wondered just how many times a box can be recycled and reused? 

The answer is not a simple one. 

At the most basic level, a box can be recycled, remade, and reused over and over again. Research has been conducted but has never obtained a definitive answer. We know based on a variety of studies that the minimum number of times a box can be recycled is seven, but additional studies have shown that the number may be much higher.  
For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that paper can be recycled up to seven times, while the Corrugated Packaging Alliance showed that corrugated box fibres can be recycled up to ten times. And the most recent study from Austria’s Graz University of Technology found that fibre-based packaging and cartonboard can be recycled at least 25 timeswithout it losing its mechanical or structural integrity.

Understanding how often a box can be recycled and reused is a critical part of understanding the positive environmental success story of Canada’s paper packaging industry. 

Paper packaging is one of the most recovered and recycled materials in Canada, making it a successful model of a true circular economy. The Canadian paper packaging industry doesn’t use much in the way of freshly cut trees – and the little that is harvested must be successfully regenerated by Canadian law – and that’s because of the high recycling rates and the ability to reuse paper-based packaging collected from homes and businesses across Canada. In fact, in Canada, while recycled content varies by the three major paper packaging grades, the overall average for domestic shipments is close to 82 per cent

The more times that corrugated boxes and other paper-based packaging is collected, recycled, and reused, the more positive benefits of the circular economy there will be. There has been good research to date, but how many times can corrugated boxes and other paper packaging be recycled? Whether it is 7 times or up to or 25 times, paper packaging is a great example of how we can collectively make a positive environmental impact through the action of recycling. 

But to try to better understand and answer the question of how many times paper fibres can be recycled in Canada, PPEC will be conducting research to dig deeper into the current studies around the recycling of paper-based packaging. We will examine the data and the latest research to fully understand what it means in the context of the Canadian recycling system and current infrastructure.   

Stay tuned – we will be sure to keep you updated! 

Source: PPEC