Americans spent a record amount of money on holiday shopping last year, and Cyber Monday 2017 was the largest single shopping day in history. E-commerce sales are expected to be even higher this season – by as much as 22 percent, and the estimated $134 billion in record online spending could correlate to a record number of cardboard boxes on doorsteps.
Until now, growth in the use of cardboard boxes has been a manageable environmental issue. They are the most-recycled packaging material, with nearly half of the material used to make new boxes coming from paper recovered for recycling. Californians have been doing their part to put used cardboard into recycling bins, which fed a nationwide recovery rate of about 90 percent for the past seven years along with an international market for recovered paper.
This year, however, the market has changed. Consumer recycling habits will also need to change to prevent a mountain of gifts from turning into a mountain of waste. China has been the main destination for recovered paper from California. But this year, China restricted the import of mixed paper and adopted tight limits on contamination – for example, the amount of plastic or adhesive residues on recovered paper. As a result, U.S. exports of all recovered paper to China were down 40 percent in the first three months of 2018, and U.S. exports of mixed paper are down 96 percent.
To meet the changing demands, consumers are going to have to update their recycling habits, and in some cases their buying habits. The first step is for consumers is to actively sort their materials. Clean paperboard or cardboard boxes remain 100% recyclable and should be put it in the recycling bin. If a box contains wet or greasy food residue, it is not recyclable and belongs in the trash.