Tips for breaking down boxes?
January 12, 2014 10:10 AM   Subscribe

I order a lot of stuff online (like the people four questions back). Which means I end up with a lot of boxes. Which means I spend a lot of time breaking down boxes with a box cutter to put into recycling. The way I do it seems both time consuming, and possibly accident-prone. Anyone have any tips for breaking down boxes safely and quickly? (Or, I guess, tips for how to avoid having to break down boxes).
posted by ManInSuit to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much all I do is slit the packing tape with a cutter, and then fold it into an acceptable size. somewhere around 2 foot by 2 foot. I can stuff it in a bin and they pick it up. Do you have any particular limitations for your recycling? Don't waste your time actually cutting up the cardboard.
posted by Roger Dodger at 10:13 AM on January 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Save them up, offer them on Craigslist as free moving boxes, and people will come to you. Arrange a time, leave the boxes outside, and they can pick them up without you having to interact at all, if you wish.
posted by Slinga at 10:16 AM on January 12, 2014

Cut the tape, fold it so it's laying flat, sort of curve if it's big so it will fit the bin and then slide it in bin long ways against the front endge so it sticks out the top. Our recyclers don't care if the lid is shut just that everything is in there.

If you put your recycling out in a box/crate, I just saved the biggest box and nestled all the other boxes in it not broken down, like a cardboard russian doll and they would throw the box in for me. Or if the boxes are small enough, you can use them broken down to make a wall around the inside of your recycling crate so you can fit more stuff in.
posted by wwax at 10:24 AM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Slit the tape on top with pocket-knife, take out stuff, slit the tape on the bottom, flatten box, put pocket-knife back in pocket, done.

If it's too big of a box, pop open the glued seam where the box is held together and then flatten the box accordion-style.

My work (where I have everything delivered) has a cardboard recycling dumpster so "too big" means something I can't easily carry.
posted by DaveP at 10:26 AM on January 12, 2014

Some good answers maybe.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:28 AM on January 12, 2014

Response by poster: It's a small place we have. Our recycling generally sits in the apartment till the once-a-week delivery. So my inclination is to cut the boxes down small (because it's hard to find a place to store a bunch of, say, 2ft by 2ft folded non-cut boxes.) Maybe there is some way for me to re-think things so I don't have to do that...
posted by ManInSuit at 10:29 AM on January 12, 2014

Response by poster: Also - we just put our our recycling in clear plastic bags. We don't have a big outdoor bin.
posted by ManInSuit at 10:31 AM on January 12, 2014

Cutting along any joints will make the cutting easier. The cardboard has already lots some of its strength there and is less resistant.
posted by Solomon at 10:32 AM on January 12, 2014

When I worked in retail, we stomped them to break the tape rather than cutting them with box cutters.

Re box cutting technique, rather than cutting the boxes themselves, you want to cut the tape so that the box comes apart, and then sort of fold/wrap/mash the cardboard down into a shape suitable for storing until garbage day. There's really no reason to be physically taking apart the box itself, which is probably what's taking so long.

If you really must dismantle the box into small pieces, ripping is probably a better bet than cutting.
posted by Sara C. at 10:33 AM on January 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you don't need to reuse the box in the future, you can skip the box cutter. The way I do it (as taught to me by the awesome janitor at my son's school):

1) put box on a side (opening facing to the side rather than up)
2) push your index finger knuckle into the side of the box next to the tape, until the cardboard buckles slightly and a gap develops between the cardboard and tape
3) slip your fingers under the tape at the gap and rip it off the box
4) box falls flat

I swear, this is the fastest way ever and after a friend of mine ended up needing 23 ER stitches across his thigh from a box cutting incident, it's the only way I flatten boxes.
posted by jamaro at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Re bag vs. bin, what if you saved up all your boxes until recycling day and put them into one bag together? You might end up with an extra bag that isn't really full, but it's a better alternative than wasting your time turning a cardboard box into pulp.
posted by Sara C. at 10:35 AM on January 12, 2014

You don't have to run a box cutter all the way along a length of packing tape, you just have to nick it a little bit and it will continue to split all the way down. So I hold the box upside-down and cut across the tape on one short end, turn the box around and cut the other end, then just nick the end of the long strip of tape. You can put the knife away at that point and just pull the bottom flaps of the box apart.

If I know I'm going to have a lot of boxes in my tiny apartment, I keep one medium-large size one intact and use it to hold the broken-down and folded boxes as well as any other recycling until it's time to take it downstairs.
posted by carsonb at 11:08 AM on January 12, 2014

In terms of avoiding having to cut the boxes up smaller:
when I have flat largish things (broken down boxes, a folding table, etc) to store, they go under the bed.
posted by sciencegeek at 11:13 AM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

We similarly need to cut and twine our boxes - removing the tape and folding only works if they are small enough and fold flat - but generally you need to do some cutting, and unfortunately not just tape - again unless these are pretty small boxes.

My suggestion - keep a sharp blade in your box cutter...this is the best way to keep from hurting yourself. You need much less force with a sharp blade. Cardboard dulls the blades quickly, so replace often.

Second if possible for thick cardboard only cut through one side and then fold. The objective here is flat and within the size limits of your collection. So instead of cutting a big box into lots of smaller pieces, cut large sheets on alternate sides to fold like an accordion. Cardboard cut on one side folds flat really well, if you alternate sides you can compress a very large (i.e. appliance) box into a small pile, since the pieces are still attached to each other it will stay neat...
posted by NoDef at 11:33 AM on January 12, 2014

I have a great technique I invented while working in retail many years ago.

Shoes highly recommended. With the top of the box open, step one foot inside of it, then with the other foot, stomp down from top to bottom on each of the corners. This should tear the box down at the edges. To keep the box from collapsing, kick your foot at a slight angle from the inside of the box to the outside - almost like a cutting motion you'd use with a knife, so that when you hit the top of your box it's on the front edge of your foot, and when you get down to the bottom you're closer to the heal.

I found this too be much quicker than cutting the boxes apart and you still end up with an equally flat result.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 11:33 AM on January 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Can you get a trash compacter? Most places that deal with a lot of cardboard just crush it.
posted by dilaudid at 11:43 AM on January 12, 2014

It's easy to fold them flat- lots of techniques here, your problem is storage. Without knowing your living situation it's hard to help. I bend the box near the tape at one end and peel the tape off, fold flat and shove into a standard issue recycle bin (about 24"X18") which is kept outside by the back door and collected once a week.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:41 PM on January 12, 2014

You know how the tape runs along the bottom seam where the flaps come together, and then the tails of the tape go slightly up the sides of the box? Turn the box so one of those sides is up, put the box on a solid surface, then firmly push down on the box along either side of the tape tail (fairly near to where that box-side meets the box-bottom).

This has the effect of pushing the box down off the tape, rather than trying to peel the tape up off the box. Then you can grab the free section of tape that's no longer stuck to anything and peel the rest off easily, no cutter needed.

Depending on the size and sturdiness of the box, you can use anything from your thumbs to your fist to your boot to apply the necessary pressure.
posted by vytae at 12:46 PM on January 12, 2014

1. Cut the tape at one end of the box bottom
2. Rip the tape off the rest of the seam
3. Fold the box flat
4. Slide the flattened boxes between the wall and a piece of furniture until recycling day
5. On recycling day. fold the flattened boxes until they're just narrow enough to cram into the plastic bag.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:27 PM on January 12, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks all! I am going to try what seems to be the general collective advice here, which I take to be: don't waste a bunch of time trying to cut boxes down into small pieces, but, rather, try and find a place to keep folded-up boxes until recycling day. Right now hunting around the apartment looking for such places...
posted by ManInSuit at 3:05 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could also try posting on freecycle to see if anyone needs moving boxes.
posted by betsybetsy at 3:44 PM on January 12, 2014

I don't even use a box knife, i just "pop" the tape with whatever ballpoint pen is convenient. (Result of too many workplaces where the boxknives hide, disappear, or simply aren't numerous in number - and disinterest in hunting for one - but I always had a pen.)

Just make them flat and stash behind/under the other recycling, or behind the couch, or something. Cutting them up in itty-bitty pieces is WAY too time-consuming.
posted by stormyteal at 4:32 PM on January 12, 2014

Do you have any space between your fridge and a wall? Looking around my place, I just saw that prime box-squeezy real estate...
posted by xiaolongbao at 4:34 PM on January 12, 2014

Another thing to consider: plan your orders so that they arrive the day you take out the recycling so you don't have to store the empty boxes for more than a few hours.
posted by Good Brain at 4:59 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take one of the bigger boxes. Flatten it out and tape up one side to make a giant pouch. Stuff other flattened boxes into the big pouch. When it's time, tape the pouch closed and you have a nice easy to carry pouch of boxes to take to the curb.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:05 PM on January 12, 2014

Behind the couch
posted by aniola at 6:24 PM on January 12, 2014

Under the bed
posted by aniola at 6:24 PM on January 12, 2014

On the side of the fridge between fridge/wall /counter /other appliance.
posted by catatethebird at 11:21 AM on January 13, 2014

« Older Kung Fu Movies For Dummies   |   I need a mint-free toothpaste Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.