Why isn't chipboard recycled in Albuquerque?
August 1, 2011 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Just moved to Albuquerque and was surprised that chipboard isn't recycled here.. This means cereal boxes and the like aren't recycled here and head to the landfill. Two-part question: 1. Why isn't chipboard recycled here like it is everywhere else I've lived? 2. Is there a way to recycle it here that I've missed? I've googled extensively but hope I've missed something.
posted by jz to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've lived in plenty of places that don't recycle at all.

Usually, it's a cost issue. If you don't have a critical mass of housing density, and high-profit recyclables (ie. white office paper, #1 HDPE bottles, and metals), the recycling operation doesn't produce enough salvageable material to cover its costs.

Chipboard is made from the absolute lowest-quality materials, most of which typically already been recycled several times. The cost (and energy) of gathering, transporting, sorting, and re-processing chipboard means that it's likely not practical to recycle, especially when the city can also collect other materials that can be more easily recycled (and at a greater profit to the city).

I'm just guessing, but I suspect that the ink and gloss-coat used to produce retail packaging also adversely affects the viability of the material to be recycled. I've found a few references online that note that wax-coated chipboard (as used in frozen food packaging) is virtually never recyclable.

The city of Seattle notes that chipboard actually has a negative value. Not only do recyclers refuse to buy the stuff; they actually penalize the city if they try to sell a bale of corrugated cardboard or paper with chipboard mixed in with it.

Similarly, even small amounts of oils and grease can completely wreck a batch of recycled paper. Because chipboard is often used for food packaging, this scenario is fairly probable. The article I just linked to notes that contaminated cardboard costs the city of Phoenix, AZ about $1 million/year in damaged equipment and wasted material.

My guess is that cities that do accept chipboard feed it into a process that only requires extremely low-grade materials, and may simply just dispose of it in a manner that is slightly more eco-friendly than sending it to a normal landfill. Even then, I've got to imagine that uncoated chipboard breaks down fairly quickly in a normal landfill.
posted by schmod at 6:45 AM on August 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

The city of Seattle notes that chipboard actually has a negative value.

That's Washington State. Seattle requires that it be put in the recycling cart. Given the vast number of things that Seattle accepts in recycling, I have to suspect that some of the lower-value items are not actually recycled at all, but having single-stream recycling probably increases participation in general.
posted by grouse at 7:14 AM on August 1, 2011

The City of Albuquerque is generally pretty responsive to questions, you can call 311 and they will try to route you to someone who might have an answer for that.

Here's an article on recycling in Albuquerque from 2006, which mentions they are not able to find a market for certain materials. Some things do end up getting sent to the landfill. I suspect that other places you have lived may have been closer to a processing plant that would take chipboard. Albuquerque isn't exactly close to any other large metropolitan areas, I suspect that transportation costs would make it expensive to send chipboard to a place where it could be recycled.

How can you recycle it? I guess you could ship it off at your own expense to somewhere else if you are determined enough. Failing that I suggest that instead of recycling it you compost it, I'd avoid using it on any plants you are going to eat though. It takes a little bit longer to compost paper products but it does work.
posted by yohko at 7:25 AM on August 1, 2011

Ooh what about using it as a sort of landscape fabric underneath decorative mulch in a flower garden to keep the weeds down? Not sure if that would be bad for the environment with all those dyes leeching into the soil and whatnot.

Just a thought!
posted by Zoyashka at 8:16 AM on August 1, 2011

We compost it. It breaks down quickly. If you are crafty you can soak it in a bucket of water til it breaks apart and then mix with Portland cement to make hypertufa-like things.
posted by yesster at 8:50 AM on August 1, 2011

If you compost, cereal boxes are just fine on the compost heap - in fact, they're particularly handy for lining the compost bin, so that you don't get so many bits of decomposing vegetables stuck to it when you empty it. Dyes are more likely to be made with water-based and non-toxic materials these days, as that's cheaper and less risky for the manufacturer, so you're not increasing your levels of e.g. lead in your garden.
posted by Lebannen at 11:34 AM on August 1, 2011

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