The usual story is that people don’t recycle enough. But now there is an oversupply of recycled cardboard (in the trade called OCC for Old Corrugated Cardboard), writes Katie Pyzyk for Waste Dive.
Demand from companies for recycled cardboard has fallen dramatically—in February prices for the recycled cardboard were 74 percent lower than in February 2022. The slump began last year, but analysts were expecting that demand for OCC would have grown by now. That hasn’t happened.
Waste cardboard comes primarily from companies, with only about 10 percent coming from households.
The main problem is lack of demand: product manufacturers don’t need as much cardboard, because consumers are buying less—due to inflation and shifts in consumer purchases. During the pandemic, consumers bought physical products for use in the home; now they are switching to services and entertainment.
Furthermore, distributors like Amazon are trying to cut down on their use of cardboard. As Megan Quinn wrote in November:
“Brands are beginning to focus more heavily on ‘rightsized’ packaging, which can mean using smaller cardboard boxes or shifting away from OCC as the outer package, [Chaz Miller of Miller Recycling Services] said. Georgia-Pacific, for example, expanded its manufacturing of paper padded mailers in response to more demand for sustainable shipping envelopes over plastic mailers.
“Amazon’s recent move toward lightweighting and reducing packaging is another example of how brand decisions can affect the market, he said. ‘Amazon is working hard to ship as little air as possible. Rightsized boxes and flexible paper or plastic mailers have dramatically cutback the use of corrugated for the outer package,’ Miller said in an email.”