Dirty Dozen: Only flatten cardboard and corrugated boxes. No crushing other containers!

Sarah Edwards

CCDES is a member of the Illinois Recycling Contamination Task Force, a group that addresses pressing recycling issues throughout the state. To answer specific recycling questions, the task force has launched the Dirty Dozen Campaign.

Although flattening containers, like cartons, plastic bottles, and cans, may save room in your recycling bin, please don’t do it. Crushing these items leads to issues in single stream recycling systems. However, you should flatten cardboard & corrugated boxes (see benefits of flattening boxes below).

Single Stream Recycling

If you put all your recyclables into one bin for curbside collection, your recyclables are part of a single stream recycling system. It’s the responsibility of the materials recovery facility (MRF) to determine the composition of each material. The catch: mistakes can happen. If a container is in an unfamiliar shape, like a crushed can or water bottle, then it may be mistaken as a different material and sorted incorrectly. For this reason, do not flatten containers, except cardboard and corrugated boxes. Keep containers (except cardboard & corrugated boxes) in their original shape for the best chance of proper sorting.

Cardboard & corrugated boxes can ALWAYS be flattened.

While boxes have a high national recycling rate, with over 88% of corrugated boxes recycled in 2017 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), we can still aim to increase efficiency while recycling boxes. One easy way: always flatten your boxes.

Benefits of breaking down cardboard and corrugated boxes:

  • Gives you more room in your recycling bin
  • Limits recyclables getting lodged in your bin during collection
  • Reduces space in transport to recycling facility
  • Increases productivity in recycling process