Cardboard - Compost or Recycle?!

 Another Amazon delivery and another example of excess packaging. This box (Photo 1) arrived this morning ...

Photo 1: Amazon delivery

... and this (Photo 2) is what it contained ...

Photo 2: Oversized Packaging?

I suppose I should be grateful they hadn't filled the empty space with that brown paper on a roll. Amazon has, apparently, reduced the weight of cardboard boxes in its average shipment by a third since 2015. Good news: reducing it by another third should be easy. Bad news: they haven't put much effort in so far.

The rise in online shopping has seen a shift in the destination of cardboard boxes from businesses to homes. When most of the cardboard boxes ended up at supermarkets, department stores and non-retail businesses, bulk collection for recycling was quick, simple and cost-effective. Nowadays, the majority of boxes are widely dispersed into multiple homes making the logistics for their collection more complicated. Generally speaking, more complicated means less recycling and this is, indeed, the case.

I could put this cardboard box in the recycling bin along with the glass bottles, plastic containers, tins, cans, and paper waste; Herefordshire Council collects all these items in one bin, other Councils may do it differently. While this is convenient for the end user (i.e. me), it is not the best way to recycle. Separation of the different recyclable streams by the end user (i.e. me) is more efficient and less carbon-intensive because it minimises the use of specialist sorting equipment at the recycling centre that, typically, runs on fossil fuels or fossil-fuel-derived electricity [based on current levels of grid renewable energy].

I, however, have an alternative disposal route and that is to compost it along with my kitchen and garden waste. I do not know whether composting cardboard is better or worse than recycling it. On the one hand, home composting will be the lower carbon option as it avoids all the carbon emissions from transportation, sorting & paper mill operations, production of recycling chemicals, etc. Against this, recycling reduces the number of trees that have to be cut down and provides employment (hopefully not at the expense of foresters). Overall, I suspect composting has a smaller carbon footprint though it is almost certainly more complicated than you (or I) think. As an added bonus, composting the cardboard gives me extra rich dark humus for the kitchen and flower gardens. By way of compromise, I am happy to recycle any cardboard that looks plasticky or is too thick to shred for composting.

Photo 3: Paper/Cardboard Shredder


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