Environmental Initiatives

Did you know that recycling is not just a modern-day issue? Early papermakers used the fibers from old rags to make their product. Citizens would save their old rags and send them to paper makers for their use. Today, the fact that paper is a renewable, recyclable resource made from and resulting in environmentally friendly materials, is truer than ever. Environmental concerns play a major role in paper manufacturing. Every step of the paper production process has been modified to become more earth-friendly. The corrugated industry has responded (often in advance) to community and government environmental regulations and standards. The result of these voluntary efforts is a corrugated material that meets all environmental guidelines and exceeds the spirit of all government and industry mandates based on environmental concerns. Potential pollutants in inks and other substances applied to corrugated have been decreased. Box plant wastewater has been cleaned up, reduced, and sometimes eliminated. This is not to say that the paper industry has achieved all its environmental goals. In the coming years, the push will continue for more productive, earth-friendly practices. The following illustrates some of the industry's environmental advances and describes how you can use corrugated in "green" ways.


Corrugated fiberboard is more likely to be recycled than any other product, surpassing glass, aluminum, and plastic. Today, 73 percent of all corrugated is recovered for recycling up from 54 percent in 1990. In 2004, over 24 million tons of old corrugated were recovered for recycling in the United States. In fact, a single fiber from a corrugated box can be recycled many times before it is too short for continued use.

How to Recycle Corrugated

There are hundreds of waste paper dealers across the country that buy old corrugated containers (OCC) and paper bags and sell them to paper mills as raw materials. To get the best prices for your OCC and to ensure proper recycling, follow these guidelines:

  • Separate any contaminants from the corrugated, including strapping, plastic bags, Styrofoam, food waste or floor sweepings. Dealers pay the highest prices for clean corrugated.
  • Remove any boxes that cannot be recycled, especially any that are contaminated by toxic or hazardous materials. If your corrugated has been treated with plastic extrusions or laminates, wax coatings, etc., it cannot be recycled.
  • Some dealers and mills will accept loose material, but large bales are generally preferred

Using Earth-Friendly Ink

Heavy metals can become groundwater pollutants if they end up in landfills or water pollutants if they are in plant wastewater. Legislation in the early 1990s aimed to reduce the content of certain metals in packaging, mercury, lead, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium, but the corrugated industry and ink manufacturers had already significantly reduced their use of these metals. Our products currently meet the Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG) standards. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are used in some oil-based inks and clean-up solvents and can be dangerous. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has listed VOCs as hazardous air pollutants. In an attempt to eliminate the release of VOCs into the atmosphere, the use of oil-based inks in the corrugated industry has steadily decreased. Box manufacturers now use water-based inks almost exclusively.

Eliminating Impact on the Ozone Layer

Certain quick-drying glues used on corrugated boxes have, in the past, contained ozone-depleting substances (ODS). By 1993, these harmful substances were virtually eliminated in the glues. Box manufacturers are continually working with adhesive manufacturers to reduce the quantity of ozone-depleting substances in their products.

Decreasing Formaldehyde Use

Formaldehyde is a potentially hazardous air emission. Although very small amounts of bound formaldehyde are still used in the corrugated industry to make glues water-resistant and to reduce the water solubility of corrugator starch, its use has been significantly reduced and can only be measured in parts per million in the finished box.

Diminishing Waste Water

The total amount of water used by the corrugated industry has steadily decreased since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the early 1980s. At the same time, the quality of the water that is discharged from box plants has been improved. Box plant water discharge quality is measured in terms of biological oxygen demand (BOD). The higher the BOD, the dirtier the water. BOD was cut in half from 1984 to 1993, and it continues to improve. Many box plants in the industry today have zero water discharge, and instead, internally recycle and reuse their process water for adhesive and ink.

Recycling Box & Plant Waste

Corrugated manufacturers not only encourage source reduction and consumer recycling of OCC, they also practice what they preach by collecting and recycling the trimmings from their own plant operations. While corrugated production continues to grow each year, corrugated companies have become more efficient so that they produce less scrap (double-lined kraft, or DLK) in the process. In addition, nearly all of these clippings are recycled.

Health, Safety, and Environmental Packaging Requirements

Different products carry different packaging requirements that may be imposed by government agencies or others, including CONEG, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the FDA, the EPA, and individual states. Corrugated manufacturers offer packaging in compliance with the required provisions for specified applications. Upon request, box suppliers will provide documentation pertaining to compliance with package content requirements (such as the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. Chapter 9 and its 21 C.F.R. Part 176, Indirect Food Additives: Paper and Paperboard Components; California's Proposition 65; heavy metals regulations, and the EPA's Clean Air Act).