EXPERT COLUMN: Think Within the Box


Many retailers accumulate hundreds of cardboard boxes each week. Retailers that want to be green and economical at the same time should consider how they dispose of those boxes.

Depending on where you are in the country, cardboard recycling doesn’t have to be a cost center for your store. If your store compacts and bales the cardboard, a recycling processor may not only pick up the cardboard for free, but you may also get a rebate for the material. How much you save or earn depends on your geographic location and the local price for old corrugated cardboard (OCC).

Stores that don’t realize this may be paying hefty hauling fees to have their OCC taken away. In Washington, D.C., for instance, each haul can cost $170, plus $90-$95 per ton removed.

The key is to make it easy for the recycling processor to pick up your cardboard, by compacting, baling and stacking it in advance.

Compacting and baling cardboard can bring in cash, as it did for one small Maryland grocer. The retailer, a specialty food store, was able to save approximately $2,000 in trash-hauling costs, while at the same time generating more than twice that in new recycling revenue each year. Companies that specialize in compactors and balers can introduce your store to local recyclers to facilitate this type of arrangement.

Many retailers, especially small and medium-sized outlets, believe that compaction equipment is too large and expensive for them. What many don’t realize is that compactors and balers can be small enough to fit into a back-of-house storage room. They can take up less than 6 square feet of floor space, and use standard 110-volt power.

Baling your old cardboard boxes into small, stackable bales has other benefits as well. In your back-of-house area, it creates more room for storage of revenue-generating merchandise. In your outside dumpster area, it reduces the chance of fire, pests and mildew.

Compacting and baling cardboard also helps to keep your employees safe; they can manage and stack the bales indoors, so there’s no need for multiple trips to the dumpster, especially in the evening or late at night. Bale sizes are manageable, and most compactor/balers come with a dolly for easy maneuvering.

Removing cardboard, a reusable material, from the waste stream and area landfills is a significant contribution to sustainability in your local area. In addition, reduced trash pickups mean fewer CO2 emissions. Balers can also be used to facilitate recycling of plastic wrap, plastic containers and office paper.

Streamlining your OCC recycling is one way for retailers to show their customers and communities that they’re striving to be green. Recycling is not only an important part of any grocer’s sustainability program, it also makes strong business sense.


J. Mark Lanning is SVP of sales at Shelton, Conn.-based Tomra North America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tomra Systems ASA and a leading global provider of resource optimization solutions. He can be reached at [email protected]. TOMRA’s wholly owned Orwak subsidiary specializes in compacting and baling solutions.

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