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Cardboard Recycling in Fort Collins

On March 5, 2013, Fort Collins became the first community in Colorado requiring corrugated cardboard to be recycled or reused, diverting an anticipated 12,000 tons of bulky cardboard from cluttering our landfill.

Since it began considering this ordinance in November 2012, the City Council heard extensively from local citizens and businesses on the pros and cons of banning cardboard from the landfill. Ultimately, Council's decision was guided by two main factors: meeting the goal of diverting 50% of the community's waste stream from landfill disposal; and, the opportunity to prevent approximately 42,000 tons of CO2 equivalents from being released. This translates into fewer harmful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and a significant step toward achieving the Fort Collins Climate Action Plan goals.

frequently asked questions

  • What is Cardboard?

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    Corrugated cardboard is a strong, versatile material made from two strips of thick brown paper on the top and bottom, with a wavy "corrugated" strip running through the center. It is most commonly found in boxes used for packaging and shipping and is universally accepted for recovery and recycling.

    See our cardboard infographic (PDF 884KB) or our brochure (PDF 967KB)for more information.

  • How Can I Recycle Cardboard?

    Residents

    Simply continue to place your flattened corrugated cardboard boxes or packaging in your curbside recycling bin, along with the rest of your recyclables. Rest assured, the new ordinance doesn't change the way households have been recycling cardboard since 2004, when cardboard was included in the Fort Collins curbside program. Residents are also welcome to use the free drop-off sites for cardboard recycling, listed below.

    Businesses

    Two options are available for local businesses:

    • Contract with your trash/recycling hauler to pick-up your cardboard materials (cardboard can either be collected separately or mixed with other recyclables);
    • OR - take flattened cardboard to a free community recycling drop-off center.

    City staff is available to help businesses address challenges they may face in complying with the cardboard disposal ban. Through the City of Fort Collins' Waste Reduction and Recycling Assistance Program (WRAP), businesses can receive free on-site recycling assessments, rebates, and free tools to help begin a recycling program. For information about WRAP and starting a recycling program at your apartment complex or business, contact Caroline Mitchell, Environmental Planner, via e-mail at , or by phone at 970-221-6288.

    Free Drop-off Sites for Recycling Cardboard

  • Who is Affected?

    All entities that use cardboard in Fort Collins are bound by the ordinance. This includes residents, businesses, and industrial operations. If your trash container or dumpster includes more than 25% of cardboard in it, the trash hauler is not allowed to remove your waste.

  • When will the Ordinance take Effect?

    The ordinance went into effect on March 15, 2013. The current focus for implementation is education and assistance. Warnings will be given while the community adapts to the change and learns to incorporate corrugated cardboard recycling into daily life. However, flagrant violations of the ordinance can result in citations.

  • Who will Enforce the Ordinance?

    City staff, which include Code Compliance and Environmental Services staff, are responsible for monitoring the cardboard disposal ban. A focus will be placed on education and working with residents/businesses to recycle their cardboard. Writing tickets for code violations will only take place after multiple warnings have been issued.

    Trash hauling companies have an obligation to identify when a customer's dumpster is frequently filled with cardboard, and to educate the customer about the cardboard disposal ban. Trash haulers are not obligated to provide service when more than 25% recyclable cardboard is included in the trash.

  • What is Not Included in the Ordinance?

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    Paperboard, the material used for shoe and cereal boxes, is recyclable. However, since paperboard has only one layer, it is not covered by the ordinance.

    Waxed cardboard, which is used to ship bulk produce, and food-contaminated cardboard, such as heavily soiled/greasy pizza boxes, are excluded from the ordinance. These materials are not considered recyclable cardboard and should be composted or landfilled. Note: Pizza boxes that are not significantly soiled should be recycled.

  • What are the Benefits of Recycling Cardboard?

    Environmental:

    By recycling paper fiber like cardboard, we're saving on our nation's forestry resources. Healthy supplies of recycled fiber allow the timber industry to let trees grow longer, instead of harvesting them early as replacement fiber to make paper. Recycling one ton of cardboard saves approximately 16 young trees from being harvested, and the longer trees grow, the more high-value habitat they offer for wildlife. Plus, recycling cardboard requires only 75% of the energy used to make new cardboard.

    Economic:

    Fort Collins' ban on landfilling cardboard can have a positive economic outcome. Cardboard is considered a high-quality commodity and is valuable as a feedstock for making new cardboard and other paper products. Rather than paying to landfill cardboard, its value can be extended through recycling or reuse. Some additional impact include:

    • Burying discarded cardboard in the landfill is permanently squandering a resource valued at $50/ton or more in today's market.
    • Recycling cardboard creates jobs. It is estimated that recycling materials creates at least 10 times more jobs than landfilling.
    • Our community paid $216,000 to landfill 12,000 tons of cardboard in 2011. That cardboard could have generated $500,000 in commodity value (based on market prices for cardboard at time of publishing), instead of being landfilled.

    Expected Diversion from the Landfill:

    An estimated 4,200 tons of cardboard were recycled by the Fort Collins community in 2011. According to data collected from local trash haulers to the City, the community could have recycled nearly 12,000 additional tons of cardboard, which was landfilled instead.

  • Re-using Cardboard

    Basic recycling is not your only option to dispose of cardboard. Here's a sampling of potential other uses, all of which are allowed under the new cardboard ordinance:

    • Re-Use is Top of Class. Without a doubt, the highest and most effective strategy is to reuse cardboard boxes for moving, storing materials, or shipping purposes. Many people have found success posting boxes for reuse on Craigslist , which enables community members to contact each other anonymously to "give 'em and get 'em". Residents and businesses are also encouraged to visit Freecycle.org to post or find boxes being given away.
    • Weed Barrier. Cardboard is an excellent weed barrier in landscaping projects. Simply place the cardboard directly on top of the soil, and cover it with mulched wood or gravel to weigh it down. Since cardboard is an organic material, it breaks down over time, and the material becomes absorbed in the soil. In fact, some gardners even include cardboard in their backyard compost bin.
    • Art-in-a-Box: Mothers of young children tell us that a cardboard box has all sorts of applications for play-time, such as making forts, art projects, and even a pretend rocket ship to the moon! We've also seen examples of beautiful classroom artwork made of cardboard by elementary school kids.
  • Which other Communities Ban Cardboard from the Landfill?

    Landfill disposal of cardboard is banned by nine states; California, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Vermont, as well as Washington, DC. However, it is unlikely that Colorado will adopt a statewide policy regarding cardboard in the near future. Communities that have taken the step of restricting cardboard disposal from landfills include Wake and Orange counties in North Carolina, and Linn County, Iowa.

  • History of the Ordinance

    In 2006, the "Fort Collins Solid Waste 5-Year Strategic Plan: Strategies to Reach 50% Diversion from Landfill Disposal" was prepared for the City. The report showed that creating local restrictions on placing cardboard in the waste stream would significantly reduce Fort Collins' trash, adding as many as 12,000 new tons/year of recovered cardboard in the recycling program, which represents a reduction of 42,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (greenhouse gas emissions avoided by manufacturers' use of recycled cardboard to make new boxes, as well as fewer methane emissions from landfills).

    The concept was so compelling that in 2008, the Fort Collins Climate Task Force included restricting cardboard disposal in its 2008 Climate Action Plan.

    City staff started outreach to the community in the fall of 2012 concerning the ordinance. Meetings were held with members of the trash/recycling and hauling industry, Chamber of Commerce, and a variety of City staff to discuss the implications of restrictions on corrugated cardboard disposal. Newspaper columns, television bulletins and web spotlights, as well as utility bill inserts were published. An Open House was conducted on November 8, 2012, to introduce the proposal to the community. Public comments were gathered in-person and online. Comments from citizens and specially affected interests were reported during a work session with the City Council on November 27, 2012.

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