Cardboard Collection Conundrum? Practice Proper Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling

If you are like many of us, at home during this pandemic, you have increased your online purchasing, and some of those purchases come packaged in cardboard.

Last summer, Ecology Center and the City of Berkeley stopped the collection of extra cardboard due to concerns over the potential for spread of Covid-19.   In October 2020, Ecology Center and the City of Berkeley resumed extra cardboard collection.

In Berkeley, residential collection of used paper and cardboard is offered by the City of Berkeley through a contract with the Ecology Center. The Ecology Center services single-family homes and small apartments (9 units or less). Recycling from commercial properties and large apartment buildings (10 units or more) is collected by the City of Berkeley which has their own rules and regulations on collection of cardboard. If you do not reside in Berkeley, it is highly encouraged that you find out who manages your recycling services as rules and regulations do vary.

What does proper cardboard recycling look like? 

In Berkeley, residential recycling carts have a brown split-top or single-top lid for paper and cardboard recycling. Cardboard needs to easily fit without being wedged into the cart. The top should be able to close. The cardboard needs to easily fall out when tipped upside down. You want to avoid situations where recycling drivers have to manipulate the cardboard inside a cart or force it out, as that poses a risk while the tipping machinery is active. Pieces of cardboard that don’t easily fit need to be cut or folded into smaller pieces.

If there is a large quantity of those pieces, please flatten, trim, and fold into pieces no larger than 3 feet on any side. Then, stack those into a 3’ x 3’ x 1’ bundle, secured with twine, string, or packing tape, and place it next to, or on top of, your curbside recycling collection cart (the cart with the brown top).  Please do not put flattened panels into an unflattened box. One bundle can be collected each week. Cardboard can be collected even when wet, so keeping bundles appropriately sized is important.

Excess cardboard or paper should NOT be placed in the blue-top “container” side (for glass, plastic & metal). Excess paper or cardboard should wait until the next collection day or be brought to the main recycling center at 669 Gilman St. in Berkeley for drop- off. Collection at small apartment buildings (9 units or less) is similar. 

(Waxed produce boxes should not be recycled, but can be composted instead in your green cart].) 

As you can see, both the recycling cart and the recycling truck have two storage compartments (left & right); one for paper/cardboard, and the other for plastic, glass and metal. If you have a split top cart, please keep those two groups of materials properly separated so they reach their proper storage area.

What is recyclable “cardboard”? 

Recyclable cardboard is a rigid, glued, corrugated paper material. If the cardboard has any coating, such as aluminum or plastic laminate, it is considered “contaminated”. This plastic or aluminum coating cannot be processed and must be diverted to landfill. Packing tape and staples can be left in your cardboard, but any great excess of cling film should be removed. Again, waxed cardboard can be composted and should be diverted to your green cart. 

Please NO: food-soiled paper or wax cartons, tissue or paper towels, soy milk or juice boxes (these usually have metal and plastic liners), or plastic or foil-coated paper.

Cardboard’s value, in quantity, is currently  $20/ton (Jan. 2021 in Berkeley).

There has also been an increase in plastic trash and waste due to the pandemic. Only some of this plastic is recyclable.  Limiting our consumption is always helpful. 

Other uses for collected cardboard —

  • Cardboard Solarization (clearing soil of live plants [weed control] for future soil uses).
  • Mulching around plants (keeps weeds down and helps to conserve water).
  • “Starter” plant pots. (Make little pots for starting seeds. These will decompose into the soil if planted directly into the garden, or can be composted, after planting.)
  • Use a sheet or two of cardboard to create a car trunk floor protector.
  • A container, some soaked cardboard, and starter mushrooms make for great mushroom cultivation.
  • 501 interesting ways to reuse cardboard other than recycling it.

If you can, find an alternative to online shopping. Shop at local stores, like the Ecology Center Store that will not over package your purchases. Find businesses that offer you alternatives to packaged products, like bringing your own containers to buy in bulk. 

Drive-Up Drop Off Self-Service in Berkeley
Any large or small quantity of cardboard can be dropped off at the Berkeley Recycling Center located at 669 Gilman Street. (Between the railroad tracks and Second Street.) Hours are  Monday through Saturday   9 AM – 4 PM. 

We are helping our Earth when we consume less plastic and cardboard. Properly reusing more of what we already have, over again, is a good start. 

This article was written by James Hosley of the Ecology Center Help Desk.

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