Can You Recycle Wet Cardboard?

  • By: greenorb
  • Date: September 25, 2021
  • Time to read: 4 min.

If you’ve ever left your recycling out overnight or had flooding in your garage, you’ve probably wondered if a little water affects whether or not you can recycle your cardboard boxes. 

So, what do you think: can you recycle wet cardboard? We’ll dive deep into the answer to that and why, as well as how to dispose of wet cardboard if you can’t recycle it. 

Keep reading for all the answers about recycling best practices!

Can you recycle wet cardboard?

There is some debate but generally, the answer is no, you shouldn’t recycle wet cardboard

Wet cardboard is still cardboard, but the water changes its ability to be recycled and re-used.

How does cardboard get recycled?

Let’s back up a little here to explain why wet cardboard can’t be recycled. 

How does cardboard typically get recycled? You probably put cardboard out at your curb or bring it to a recycling center along with bottles and other plastics. 

All these mixed items end up at a Material Recovery Facility (MRF), where they are sorted through and separated for optimum recycling practices. 

As these materials go down a conveyor belt, a few things happen: 

  • Cardboard and paper rise to the top 
  • Plastic, metal, glass, and other heavy materials skid underneath

When the cardboard is wet, it can sink to the bottom with other materials and end up in the wrong recycling pile, compromising the whole process.

Why can’t you recycle wet cardboard?

Most recycling facilities use an automatic sorting system. 

Wet cardboard can gunk up the gears, so to speak, and significantly slow down the process. Wet cardboard is also heavy. 

If you recycle wet cardboard, it may get stuck in the wrong recycling pile and end up in a landfill. Or, it could harm the machinery at the MRF and stall future sorting. 

There are also sanitary considerations for the people working at the facility.

Is it OK to recycle wet cardboard?

It is not OK to recycle wet cardboard. 

If you really care about recycling, consider taking a few extra steps outlined later in this article to ensure you are recycling your cardboard properly. 

Will recycling take wet cardboard?

They might initially pick up your wet cardboard recycling, but it will often get trashed or cause more problems down the line.

Facilities use about 50% of cardboard to make more cardboard boxes — the last thing the planet needs is to not be able to recycle something so in demand!

What happens to wet cardboard?

Wet cardboard is essentially useless to recycling plants

The fibers are ruined, which can make it difficult to repurpose the material. 

Wet cardboard often ends up rejected, and most of the items around it also end up in a landfill.

How to avoid wet cardboard?

It may seem simple, but it’s best to avoid wet cardboard in the first place since it’s so hard to recycle afterward. 

Here are some tips to follow to avoid wet cardboard:

  • Flatten boxes as you go to leave less room for pooling water
  • Put cardboard boxes in a safe, dry location until recycling day
  • If there is a chance of rain, put boxes out in the morning instead of at night
  • Ensure your recycling bin is dry!

How to dry a wet cardboard box?

You can attempt to dry a wet cardboard box by air drying, but often the cardboard fibers are very saturated and need an extremely dry environment to dry. It’s best to avoid moisture in the first place.

Can wet cardboard get moldy?

Yep, unfortunately, wet cardboard can get moldy. 

This is unsanitary for the sanitation workers who pick up your recycling, which is only part of the reason it is best practice not to recycle wet cardboard.

Does wet cardboard attract bugs?

Yes, wet cardboard is a great way to attract bugs. Not to mention, wet cardboard can grow mold and other contaminants as it waits around to be reused.

Can you compost wet cardboard?

You can compost wet cardboard! Cardboard broken into small pieces will compost easily and more quickly, like many materials. 

You should be sure to take into account the type of cardboard if you’re looking to use it in compost. Shredded cardboard is your best bet!

Does recycling have to be dry?

Yes! This doesn’t just apply to cardboard, but plastic, glass, and any other recyclable materials. 

All recycling should be rinsed, clean and dry to keep the sorting process as efficient and sanitary as possible. 

How do I recycle cardboard?

Cardboard is a common packaging material, especially with online shopping at an all-time high recently. 

You can recycle cardboard that isn’t wet by removing all internal packaging materials, breaking them down, and flattening them. 

If you’re putting your cardboard outside, make sure it fits in your recycling bin — otherwise, you’ll be dealing with wet cardboard that is more difficult to recycle.

In Summation:

  • Wet cardboard is not recyclable.
  • Wet cardboard is heavy and causes stoppage time at recycling facilities.
  • Wet cardboard could cause sanitation issues and is cumbersome for facility workers.
  • Avoiding wet cardboard in the first place — it’s useless for you and for recycling facilities if it gets wet!
  • If you recycle cardboard that is not dry, you could be working against the recycling efforts of your community. 
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