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Free Boxes Are Good for Reuse, Too

I recently bought a new home and was moved (pun intended) by the cardboard boxes that I was able to reuse and then recycle. Cardboard is the most used and recycled packaging material in the world.

I recently bought a new home and was moved (pun intended) by the cardboard boxes that I was able to reuse and recycle.

Even though I frequently see them piled in the recycling building at the landfill, cardboard boxes are not something to which I give much thought. When I was preparing to pack all my belongings I realized I needed some boxes, and deliberated over where to find some for free. I just can’t bring myself to pay for moving boxes. I’ve relocated many, many times and have gotten boxes from retail stores. However, WalMart and other stores no longer give their boxes away. They keep them in house for reuse and recycling.

When I was in college I learned that liquor stores were a great source for free cardboard boxes. Their boxes are small and perfect for books and have dividers for glasses and dishes. Some even have handles. I visited an ABC store in Fredericksburg and the staff was most helpful in giving me boxes and even brought them out to my vehicle. I did scrounge a couple from the recycling center, but most of the ones I saw were dirty or torn up.

As I was driving through a neighborhood one day, I spied a moving company unpacking a family out of a moving van and as soon they placed an empty box on the sidewalk I pounced on it. The movers thought I was a little crazy, but I scored three boxes. A friend suggested I check Freecycle or Craigslist for boxes, but of course that was after I was mostly packed. It kind of blows my mind that people would purchase brand new cardboard boxes from the moving van rental store or a home improvement store. Some moving van rental stores offer boxes for reuse. U-Haul, for one, has been doing this for five years. Boxes are out there and available for reuse, you just have to find them. 

I am proud that I was able to find all previously used cardboard boxes for my move and when I finally get unpacked (four boxes left), I will recycle them after I try to reuse them.

In the industry, cardboard boxes are called OCC (old corrugated cartons) and are readily recycled. The R-Board (The Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Management Board) wants your OCC! We ask that you flatten the boxes and keep them clean and dry. Flattening them saves space in our dumpsters. We also ask that you do not try to recycle greasy pizza boxes or other food-soiled cardboard. Clean, flat OCC may be delivered to any of our recycling centers or your curbside provider will collect them.

Once it arrives at the recycling center, OCC is sorted, compacted, and baled.  At the paper mill, the bales are broken open and placed with water in a repulper or large blender and agitated to form a slushy pulp. Contaminants like tape and metal are removed and then the fibers are drained on a screen before passing between rollers that press the remaining water out. The wet mat of paper fiber winds its way through a dryer on a conveyor belt. At the end of the dryer, the paper is wound onto spools and shipped to manufacturers who make new cardboard boxes.

After you finish with them, please reuse and recycle your cardboard boxes. I have plans to use a couple of the liquor store ones for a fabric covered shadow box frame and as a shelf liner in an old tea cabinet I got from a junk shop. I’ll definitely recycle the rest!

As I was pondering what to write and gathering my thoughts last week, I received an email from a teacher in Delaware. One of her students found our website, useful and recommended a link that we could include. It happens to be about reusing cardboard so I thought I would share it here too. Enjoy!

Moving Boxes: Fun Crafts for Kids

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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