The amount of waste we produce on a yearly basis is on the increase and sending all this waste to landfill sites is no longer a viable option. Apart from the obvious fact that landfill takes up a lot of space and we will soon run out of space, landfills are not pleasant places. They give off nasty odours, contribute to the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere and if the leak they can contaminate the surrounding earth and waterways posing a health risk.
Fortunately, more and more people are waking up to the idea of recycling and are making a bigger effort to dispose of their waste in a more environmentally friendly way, but collectively, are we doing enough.
The simple answer is no we are not, because there is still an unacceptable amount of waste reaching landfill sites each year. For example, approximately 5 million tonnes of waste paper and cardboard is still being sent to landfill in the UK alone, which is totally unnecessary, particularly as it is a relatively easy process to recycle cardboard and paper, and it uses less resources and energy than it does to produce new cardboard and paper from scratch.
Why recycle cardboard
As cardboard is used extensively for packaging it is absolutely everywhere and can make up a large proportion of household waste, in fact cardboard and paper can make up between a quarter and a half of a all household waste produced each year. Imagine the amount of landfill space that would involve.
Cardboard is made from cellulose fibres, often wood pulp, which means that in order to make virgin cardboard, it is necessary to chop down new trees, which also leads to the destruction of the surrounding habitat and wildlife too. Recycling cardboard minimises the amount of trees that need to be felled and also saves on energy and water as well as reduces the amount of paper and cardboard ending up in landfill sites.
As cardboard is biodegradable, it will produce the greenhouse gas Methane as it is breaking down so if it ends up in landfill it will increase the amount of Methane being released into the atmosphere and contribute to global warming as well as take up unnecessary space.
The types of cardboard packaging that can easily be recycled include:
Boxes of all sizes
Toilet roll holders
The cardboard recycling process
The process of recycling cardboard involves soaking the cardboard in water and stirring it until it has broken down into individual fibres. Each time cardboard is recycled the fibres get a bit longer but cardboard can still be recycled several times before the fibres break down completely.
The cardboard is then cleaned and any contaminants like ink, bits of sticky tape and metal clips are removed. After cleaning, the pulp is then ready for draining and drying and rolling into sheets which removes any final traces of moisture and binds the fibres together to make the cardboard. The recycled cardboard is now ready to make into new cardboard boxes and packaging.
Disposing of cardboard waste, Reduce Reuse Recycle
The first step in any recycling process is to reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place so try to purchase goods with a minimum amount of packaging. When buying larger items, some firms and manufacturers will take back the boxes and packaging so check to see if this is an option.
The second step in the recycling process is to reuse or find another purpose for as much waste as possible and cardboard is no different. For example you could use cardboard boxes of all sizes for storage. Other options include shredding your waste cardboard and using it for pet bedding or putting it into the compost heap. There are also other creative uses including using old egg cartons as seed trays or egg cartons, cereal boxes and toilet roll holders as equipment for children’s craft activities. Perhaps a nearby school or nursery would welcome a donation of these items, so it might be worth asking.
The final stage in the recycling process is to dispose of the waste in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Many kerbside collections will take cardboard waste now but if they don’t, find out where the nearest recycling centre is and take your waste cardboard there. Before depositing your cardboard check to see what types the recycling centre will take and if it needs to be sorted first. In any event, before depositing it, flatten the cardboard as much as possible and try to remove any obvious contaminants.
If everyone did a bit more then we could all benefit from a healthier environment and help preserve the earth’s resources for future generations.