Can You Recycle Dirty Cardboard? The Surprising Answer

Cardboard Recycling

We have made great strides in the past few decades to become more environmentally conscious. Recycling is one of the most common ways that individuals and businesses can make a positive impact on the environment. However, one question that frequently arises is whether it is necessary to clean cardboard before recycling it. In this article, we will explore this question in-depth and provide an answer that will help you make informed decisions about recycling cardboard.

Understanding the Recycling Process

Before we delve into the question of whether we should recycle dirty cardboard, let’s first understand the recycling process. Recycling involves taking a used item and turning it into a new product. The process typically involves collecting the used item, sorting it, cleaning it, and breaking it down into raw materials that can be used to create a new product.

When it comes to cardboard, the recycling process involves removing any contaminants, such as food or grease, that could contaminate the papermaking process. The process begins with sorting the cardboard based on its grade, which is determined by the quality and thickness of the cardboard. Once sorted, the cardboard is then cleaned, de-inked, and pulped to create new paper products.

The Impact of Dirty Cardboard on the Recycling Process

Now, let’s address the question at hand: should we recycle cardboard that isn’t clean? The short answer is no, we should not. Dirty cardboard can have a significant impact on the recycling process, and it can cause problems for paper mills and recycling centres.

When dirty cardboard is processed, it can contaminate the pulping process, which can result in lower-quality recycled paper products. Additionally, it can cause problems with the machinery at recycling centres, which can result in costly repairs and downtime. Contaminated cardboard can also attract pests, such as rats and cockroaches, which can create health and safety hazards for workers at recycling facilities.

So, What Should You Do with Dirty Cardboard?

If you have dirty cardboard, the best course of action is to dispose of it in the regular trash. While it may seem counterintuitive to throw away something that could be recycled, it’s important to remember that contaminated cardboard can cause more harm than good in the recycling process.

However, there are some steps you can take to reduce the amount of dirty cardboard you generate in the first place. For example, you can avoid putting greasy pizza boxes in the recycling bin and instead dispose of them in the regular trash. You can also take steps to keep your cardboard dry, as wet cardboard is more likely to become contaminated.


Recycling is an important way that we can all do our part to protect the environment. However, it’s important to understand the impact that dirty cardboard can have on the recycling process. If you have dirty cardboard, it’s best to dispose of it in the regular trash. By taking steps to reduce the amount of dirty cardboard you generate, you can help ensure that the recycling process runs smoothly and efficiently.