Is Cardboard Biodegradable? (And Good For the Soil?)

Cardboard is the go-to packaging material, and it has been this way for a long time now. Manufacturers can design it in just about any color, and it’s strong enough to withstand the substantial weight.

You can also use cardboard as a storage unit. Most times, we use old cardboards to store books, old clothing, household utensils, etc. Summarily, cardboards come in handy for several purposes, and this doesn’t leave out moving boxes.

If you’ve just had a large shipment delivered to your doorstep, then you’ve got a sizable cardboard box on your hands. So, how do you dispose of it? Well, if you’re wondering if it’s biodegradable, then you’re at the right place.

This blog post will analyze whether cardboard is biodegradable, eco-friendly, and good for the environment. If you’re also curious about how long its decomposition process takes, then please, read on!

Are Cardboard Boxes Biodegradable?

Cardboard is a packaging option made from plant-based material. But, of course, the material in question is paper, and we know just how biodegradable it is.

Well, let’s backtrack by breaking this down. When a material is biodegradable, it usually takes between 2 weeks to 8 months to decompose naturally. Factors like sunlight, water, air, and most importantly, microorganisms work together to break it down and convert it to the soil.

Now, cardboard is made from paper, making it a natural resource. Paper is biodegradable, and under the right conditions, will break down within 2 months. However, there are certain conditions involved.

You see, cardboard boxes are excellent packaging materials. Beyond shipping and storage, manufacturers use these boxes for packaging food items like milk, cereals, and even eggs.

We all know how resistant paper is to water; it has zero tolerance for the latter. So now, how do we get juice boxes and milk with cardboard containers? Well, the answer is simple! The boxes are lined with wax.

While these boxes are also biodegradable, the wax on them makes the process relatively slower. But, of course, it doesn’t entirely slow down the process, just long enough for the wax to dissolve and melt away or give in to time and weather factors. This usually takes about 5 years; it could be less, however.

Cardboard boxes are biodegradable; they break down so easily. To make the process even faster, simply soak the boxes in warm foamy water for a few minutes. This will break the fiber in the paper into smaller pieces and make it easier for the microorganisms to get the job done.

Since cardboard is biodegradable, you can add it to a compost pile. It’ll break down pretty fast and serve as a healthy form of fertilizer for your soil and plants. The best part is that cardboard is entirely odorless, unlike some other items in a compost pile.

In fact, your entire compost pile can comprise of cardboard. If you receive regular shipments or buy items that come in these boxes regularly, you can choose to compost them instead of recycling them.

Is Corrugated Cardboard Recyclable?

Corrugated cardboard is an innovative idea that has made packaging on all scales much more effortless. It’s designed from a fluting method, making it possible for cardboard boxes to carry just about any weight without coming apart.

These boxes can carry fragile items like glass safely. With a few adjustments, they can equally accommodate heavy items without coming apart either. Amazing, right?

Well, despite the perks of corrugated cardboard boxes, people are beginning to shy away from materials that don’t seem recyclable or whose production processes hurt the environment. But, of course, most people who do this are millennials, and for a good reason too!

So, if you’re wondering if it’s time to leave corrugated boxes behind, then the short answer is no. Corrugated cardboard boxes are just like the others – they are entirely recyclable.

As we mentioned earlier, what makes corrugated cardboard boxes different from regular ones is a creative method called fluting. It’s a way of creating spaces between two liners. These boxes can then be designed to withstand high heat conditions, breakage, and even a certain level of water.

Corrugation also makes cardboard boxes durable; they last much longer, and this is excellent because it means more use and less energy consumption when we finally need to dispose of them.

When next you have a shipment that comes in corrugated cardboard boxes, you can take them down to your local recycling center to recycle them. It’s that easy; however, there’s a tricky part.

Wet corrugated cardboard boxes, boxes that have been used for packaging foods like pizza, or have been lined with wax to prevent water from seeping in or out cannot be recycled. Boxes for frozen foods can’t either, and the same goes for cardboard boxes that have been lined with plastic.

You can attempt decomposing these boxes instead. However, just about any recycling company or center will accept dry corrugated cardboard boxes.

Is Cardboard Eco-Friendly?

If a product doesn’t negatively affect the environment in its manufacturing, utility or disposal stages, then it’s entirely eco-friendly. However, that’s asking a lot in this day and age. But of course, technology strives to meet up these stringent measures.

Now, is cardboard eco-friendly? Well, the short answer is that it is, but only to a large extent. Cardboard is made from paper, and of course, paper is made from trees. While governments strive for afforestation in many regions, it’s almost impossible to avoid taking down trees, particularly if we want to make paper.

In recent times, however, technology seems to be making it possible to have paper without cutting down trees, and we look forward to that stage.

Currently, however, cardboard isn’t eco-friendly in this regard. While trees will certainly grow back after a few decades, the more trees we take down, the more we expose our environment to global warming.

Let’s also discuss the manufacturing process for paper. Cardboard doesn’t necessarily need many chemicals to become what it is today, but it does require an extended processing period. This period consumes a lot of energy, and the burnt energy gets expended into the atmosphere and may leave behind toxic fumes. These toxic fumes may also contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer.

Cardboard boxes don’t have a detrimental consumption stage. We use them to package a variety of items. Lastly, let’s discuss their disposal.

You can say that cardboard boxes are one of the easiest disposable materials. They decompose really fast, most times in the space of 2 months. You can also compost them; they make excellent compost items because they’re odorless and easy to decompose too.

While cardboard doesn’t have an eco-friendly production stage, its redeeming feature is its environmental friendliness regarding disposal. Even if you aren’t composting or decomposing your used cardboard boxes yourself, you can easily take them to a recycling center to have them recycled.

Is Cardboard Bad for the Environment?

Cardboard is one of the common materials that leave behind the most negligible environmental impacts. While it starts with deforestation, it ends its life by leaving positive or no environmental effects.

Of course, like every other manufactured material, cardboard boxes consume energy during their production process. This is bad for the environment, but it’s the lesser evil when compared to other materials like plastic.

It’s almost impossible to avoid the stage where it consumes a high level of fuel, but its redeeming feature is its easy and environmentally friendly disposal methods.

You can recycle cardboard, compost it, or leave it to decompose on its own. However, there’s a tricky part. When cardboard is left to decompose on its own, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas.

Methane isn’t dangerous if it’s in small quantities. However, when it begins to get excessive, it can contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer. As such, it’s best to entirely avoid putting your useless cardboard in the trash can as it’ll end up in our landfills.

It won’t take a long time to decompose but will leave adverse effects on the atmosphere. As such, it’s best to recycle it or compost it in your backyard.

How Long Does it Take for Cardboard to Decompose?

Several factors contribute to ending a cardboard box’s lifespan. First, we have to consider environmental factors like moisture, heat and microorganisms. They’re always present, of course, but they vary from one area to another. For instance, some regions are more prone to heat than others.

We’ll also need to consider the materials added to the cardboard. For packaging milk, juice and frozen foods, manufacturers may line cardboard boxes with wax, which is resistant to moisture. This slows down the decomposition process and may cause it to require as many as five years. It’ll eventually happen but at a much slower rate.

Another factor we can consider is the cardboard box’s state. Boxes that have been used repeatedly will certainly decompose faster than newly made boxes. The longer the use, the closer it is to the end of its lifespan. Older cardboard boxes will deteriorate much quicker, typically within 2 weeks to a month.

Now, cardboard boxes without added materials will take about 2 weeks to 2 months to finally decompose. Of course, you can make the process easier by soaking them in warm foamy water and tearing them into small pieces before taking them to your compost pit.

Is Cardboard Good For the Soil?

If you’ve got cardboard boxes that aren’t specially treated, then they’re excellent for the soil! You can compost these boxes, and within a short period too. They break down really fast, are made from plant-based materials, making them excellent nutrient providers for the soil.

When you compost cardboard boxes, you give your soil and plants healthier fertilizers compared to store-bought ones.

You can use cardboard boxes as mulch, and here, you place cardboard on your soil. It protects the soil during extreme temperatures, particularly wintertime. At the same time, it provides your soil with more nutrients, and here’s how.

When you place cardboard boxes on the soil, you can put the organic matter on it. Microorganisms and worms in your soil will enjoy feasting on these boxes, and of course, in the process, they’ll break it down and create more soil and food for said soil.

Mulching also helps you control weed growth in your garden. It’ll naturally improve the soil in the process too. So, you see, cardboard is good for the soil.


Cardboards are environmentally healthy packaging options. They’re designed to withstand light to heavyweight, resist moisture to an extent, and even preserve our food.

It’s also excellent that aside from the manufacturing process, cardboard boxes are entirely environmentally friendly. This blog post has adequately dealt with common questions regarding cardboard boxes. Now, it’s time to make environmentally conscious decisions!

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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.