9 Reuse ideas for Cardboard in a Zero Waste Home

By May 30, 2014 No Comments
My thoughts on cardboard use, reuse, and recycling, through the interview questions of a cardboard manufacturer.
How important do you feel reusing recyclable
materials like cardboard is today?
 For the sake of the
environment, it is important to prioritize reusing before recycling. The
recycling process takes energy and resources; that loss can be avoided with
reusing. In reducing our waste, our plastic consumption has been almost
completely stopped (the only plastic product we buy on a regular basis is my
husband’s contact lens solution). Thanks to its weight and
recyclability, cardboard has replaced many of the plastic items that we
used to buy. For example, our kids use cardboard school binders instead of the
laminated kind.
Would you personally prefer to recycle cardboard in
the conventional way (e.g. using local recycling facilities), or would you
rather find a way to repurpose the cardboard for something else around the
 To lead a Zero Waste
lifestyle, my family applies 5R’s in order (Refuse-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-Rot).
Reuse precedes Recycle, so we prefer to repurpose the cardboard that we cannot
first Refuse or Reduce.
Do you think people today make enough of an effort to
reuse and recycle in general?
 Your question is
timely. I visited a waste transfer station last weekend and watched people
unload cars and trucks full of (what they consider) “rubbish”. The
material that jumped out at me as being the most prevalent and yet, widely
recyclable, is cardboard. Our society makes it too easy to underestimate the
value of our planet’s resources but consumers need, and can easily, rise above
this needless waste.
What would be your top tips for reusing cardboard?
Are there any specific things cardboard can be used for in the home?
 Since we exclusively
buy food in bulk from the health food store and  buy household goods secondhand mostly from the thrift store, the little cardboard
that makes its way into our home is from our kids’ school binders
and toilet paper rolls. We also
receive boxes from products that we’ve sent to manufacturers for repair and
eBay purchases (we use this site for specific items and request shipping
materials to be cardboard or paper). If we don’t have cardboard on hand and
need some, we go dumpster diving!
Here are ways to reuse
cardboard in a Zero Waste Home:
Shipping something:
When you receive a parcel, put the box aside to use for your own mailings.
After all, your purchase likely paid for it, so why not reuse it instead of
buying a new one at the post office? I have dedicated a spot for this in my
office to make it easy and automatic to reuse the ones I get. The trick here is
to not get overboard: Only keep a handful, and reuse the rest in other ways
(see below) or donate them. In the US, UPS accepts them, along with bubble wrap
and other packing materials, for reuse.
Padding a parcel
Speaking of mailing… Cardboard can also be cut to the size of an object to
protect it during shipping. It is a durable and sustainable alternative to
bubble wrap or plastic-padded envelopes (to emulate the latter, simply slide
two pieces of cardboard in a paper envelope!).
Craft making:
Why buycard stock when the very same material sits in your recycling bin?
Our family no longer buys or stores art materials at home. When we need some for a school
project, we reach into our recycling bin and use whatever bits of paper or cardboard we can find.
And if a teacher asks for a poster board, we unfold and cut a box to size.
Packing for a move:
If you’re planning an upcoming move, start collecting large boxes in a spare
room now. If not, make the ones you still have from your last move, available
to others by posting them on a classified ad (on Craigslist for example).
People who pack for a move themselves are desperate to find free boxes and
would be happy to make use of yours.
Moving furniture:
Rather than carrying heavy pieces of furniture, set them on cardboard and slide
them around. This will save your hardwood floors, and more important your
Donating your stuff:
Our household has been refusing plastic and paper bags since 2008, so when time
comes to donate the kids overgrown clothing, we keep an eye out for a cardboard
box to pack and transport our donation to a local charity. Boxes are much
sturdier than bags, and with their flaps paper-taped up, I can pack them high
and tight!
Protecting your floor:
Whether you need to protect your floor from a paint job, heavy traffic
during a remodel, or your toddler’s food throwing skills, cover the area with
unfolded cardboard boxes. But remember: if food comes in contact with
cardboard, it’s best to compost it (vs. recycling it).
Storing your stuff:
Before the digital age, shoe boxes collected family photos, but cardboard boxes
of different sizes are still predominantly reused for storing things. Don’t
underestimate other cardboard forms though: your empty toilet paper roll can
too serve you well. Keep spare extension cords neat and tidy by coiling and
sliding them into separate rolls.
Playing pretend:
Give a child an empty cardboard box and you’ll open a whole imaginary world for
him/her. It can be more than a house or a rocket ship: my son’s friend,
Camilla, once went to a costume party dressed as a gift! And this B-boy would use it to start off a breaking battle;)
What cardboard item can’t you avoid, and how do you reuse it?
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