Whether it is because you’re moving to a new home or because you’re just doing a lot more online shopping lately, collections of cardboard boxes are probably a part of your life or have been at one time or another. Boxes may seem useless, but cardboard can be reused in many ways before you end up recycling them.
In America, the average person uses approximately seven trees every year in paper products. Recycling cardboard only uses around 75 percent of the energy needed to make new cardboard, and every ton of recycled cardboard saves 9 cubic yards of landfill space.
Like paper, cardboard is made from wood fiber. There are two different types of cardboard: corrugated and chipboard, or paperboard. Corrugated cardboard is made in layers, with the middle core layer folded into a zig-zag structure. Paperboard is a grayish, single layer of cardboard that is more firm than paper but can be torn easily — think cereal boxes. Recycled cardboard becomes paperboard.
Tips for Recycling Your Cardboard Boxes
Cardboard is easily recyclable, and as long as you are recycling it correctly, you’ll save a lot of resources. Most municipalities have some kind of facility that will take your cardboard boxes as long as you break them down and flatten them for collection or drop off. Most towns will pick up your cardboard at your curb in large quantities, or you may have to go to a recycling center, in which case you should call ahead and find out what the rules are in your area.
Some waste collection services won’t take cardboard or paperboard if it’s wet. Wet cardboard fibers are less valuable for recycling centers. Water also makes the cardboard heavier, which ruins the value, since it’s sold by weight.
Sometimes, you can’t recycle your cardboard; if it’s contaminated with pizza grease or wax of some kind, you´ll have to toss the contaminated cardboard in the trash. Still, you may be able to compost it or use it to line your garden beds with it for weed control.
But for those who love to repurpose things, there are many ways to get some great use out of cardboard boxes before it’s time to send them to the recycling plant.
Ways To Use Cardboard Boxes Around the House
DIY household storage. Using cardboard boxes for storage seems like an obvious choice, but you can make it fancy. Wrap your cardboard boxes in decorative papers, wrappings, or simple labels to create low-cost home storage decor that is functional as well as beautiful. Simply take your box, some adhesive, and enough paper, fabric, or other materials, and wrap your box in an entirely new look. Mix and match the colors and patterns to give your shelves cupboards and other storage areas an attractive, coordinated look.
Shoe rack. Shoes already come in a storage box, so do you really need to buy another shoe shelf when you can build shoe storage out of the boxes they came in? You can assemble your cardboard box shoe rack in various ways — stack your boxes together using a glue gun to make them sturdy and secure. For a more intricate design, try this unique folded cardboard shoe rack.
Drawer dividers. Keep things tidy in your drawers with sturdy cardboard dividers. Imagine opening up your sock drawer, and every pair of socks is neatly visible. Drawer dividers are not only helpful for clothing, but also for the utility drawer, utensil drawers, and bathroom drawers.
Cardboard Boxes as Home Decor
Photo frames. Turn your cardboard boxes into photo frames, which you can decorate more efficiently than wood or other materials. Once you have decided the size of photos you’re going to frame, cut a piece of cardboard for the back, then cut another layer the same size to place over the top of it. Leave one end of the frame open to slide the photo into place, but use glue or staples to connect the frame layer to the backing. Try this tutorial for more ideas.
Lamps. Fold cardboard into different geometric shapes to make cool lamps and paper lanterns for beautiful accent light in your home. The sky’s the limit for ways to fold and cut cardboard into geometric shapes.
Mirrors. Make a sweet mirror frame out of boxes or cardboard using various shapes and adding some bling, like this amazing mirror made from toilet paper rolls and sequins.
Repurpose Cardboard for Your Pets
Cat hammock. Since cats love boxes, period, you may not even have to turn your cardboard box into anything special in order for your cat to think it’s a luxurious, private getaway just for them. But constructing a cat hammock is probably as much fun for you as the hammock is for your cat. Try some of these clever ideas for your cat’s hammock.
Cat scratching structure. Cat scratching apparatuses are known for being expensive and taking up a lot of room. Not anymore. Make your own cat scratching post or pad out of leftover cardboard, and feel no shame about throwing it into the recycling bin or compost pile once your cat is finished with it.
Dog house. A home for Fido is easy to build out of cardboard, and it makes a great little indoor hideout for your dog. Simply cut a door big enough for your dog to enter, toss in his favorite blanket and chew toy, and your old cardboard box is now a doghouse.
Dog bed. Cut a couple of large or small boxes down to a more shallow profile, and stack them inside each other for durability. Add some pillows and blankets for your dog to snuggle with.
Birds houses. If they’re made out of sturdy cardboard boxes and painted with a waterproof coating, you can create a range of beautiful birdhouses for your covered patio.
Ways to Reuse Cardboard Boxes in the Office
Filing and storage. Sturdy cardboard boxes are great for storing old files and other office essentials that you need to keep but want out of your sight. Clearly label the boxes, and put them in the storage closet.
Decorative storage. You can make some attractive office decor with nice little cardboard boxes, adding your own special touches. Use fabric, decorative paper, ribbons, or other items to adorn your boxes. Use oatmeal boxes for pen holders or glue cereal boxes open on one side together to store files.
Markers, pens, and pencils caddy. A handy desktop caddy is easy to make with a low profile box as the tray or base and adding tubes or boxes in which to stand up your markers, pens highlighters, rulers, and other supplies. Color coordinate the design with your office decor.
DIY Cardboard Playhouses & Crafts for Kids
Pretend kitchen. Every appliance in the kitchen is box-shaped, which makes cardboard boxes great for creating a play kitchen the kids will adore. With a few cuts, a hot glue gun, some paint, your child’s imagination, and your ingenuity, you can create a refrigerator, sink, stove, dishwasher, and microwave. Use cardboard to make accessories, like a toaster, pots, and pans, and even cardboard play food.
Dollhouse. Making cardboard dollhouses is a super fun and creative project for kids—and adults—of all ages. A cardboard house can be as simple or as elaborate as you want it to be. Keep it simple with a single box for creating a miniature room—paint the interior, add cardboard furniture, and make little dolls out of clothespins or sticks—or go wild, and make an elaborate, multi-box, multi-story home with doors between rooms, stairs, and a rooftop garden.
Fort. Little kids love big boxes, especially when they’re big enough to make into a fort. As with cardboard dollhouses, a cardboard fort can be as simple or as epic as you want it to be. Toddlers will be happy with anything they can walk into and hang out inside. Bigger kids—and many adults—will find great joy in creating a large structure with rooms and tunnels. Just make sure you check the weather so you’ll be able to enjoy your fort before it rains.
Car, rocket ship, submarine. Whatever type of vehicle your kid is into, you—or they—can make it out of a cardboard box. Use scissors or a utility knife to cut doors and windows, and have your kids use markers to draw on the details, like the wheels, handles, and controls—or make them out of cardboard and glue them on.
Wild card boredom-buster. Give your kids a bunch of cardboard boxes on a rainy afternoon and see what kind of magic happens.
With a little creativity and imagination, you can turn your cardboard boxes into something fantastic, giving them a longer life, reducing waste, and lowering your carbon footprint. Getting clever and creating things like DIY storage bins, shoe racks, dog beds, and birdhouses can give you an enormous amount of satisfaction, and crafts like these help you relax and be creative. Kids and pets love cardboard boxes of all kinds, keeping them busy for long periods—and once they’re done with their creations and no longer interested, you can recycle the boxes. Repurposing your cardboard boxes is good for the planet, great for the kids’ imaginations, and benefits your health. Good thing you saved all those boxes!