How to Recycle Moving Boxes: Cardboard, Plastic, and Wooden Crates

Cardboard moving boxes piled on a wood floor.

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Most moving boxes are recyclable, but it all depends on what the boxes are made of and what they contain.

Clean (as in dry and not covered in food waste) cardboard moving boxes are recyclable as long as they don’t have a plastic film on the inside. Plastic and wooden boxes can also be recycled, but not as easily.

When materials are mixed, like when cardboard moving boxes contain a thin protective layer of plastic on the inside, things can get complicated.

Here's what to do with your used moving boxes based on their materials.

Do I Need to Remove Packing Tape Before Recycling Moving Boxes?

Written and ink labels are fine, but most packing tape is not recyclable. Whether or not your local recycling facility can handle removing tape from the recycling stream varies. 

Typically, you don’t need to remove tape from your cardboard box before recycling it as the recycling machinery will filter it out. But it’s best to check with your recycler to be completely sure. Wishcycling is never a good idea.

How to Recycle Cardboard Boxes

Most commonly, moving boxes are made from corrugated cardboard, which is made up of multiple layers. Not only is it strong and durable, this type of cardboard can be recycled after use. Most municipal curbside pickup recycling programs in the United States accept cardboard boxes. 

In the recycling process, the fibers of corrugated cardboard are separated and bleached through a technique called re-pulping. Once it's broken down to its raw fibers, the material can be made into new products, including more moving boxes.

Often, recyclers don’t require you to remove packing tape from your boxes before tossing them in the bin, but many will require you to break down each box before they pick them up. Breaking down the boxes makes the material less bulky, so they can handle them more easily and fit more recyclables on their trucks.

If you don’t have curbside pickup recycling in your city, call your local municipal waste company to determine your next steps. There are various recycling companies across the country that accept cardboard as long as it’s clean and dry. Wet cardboard can weigh down recyclables and gum up machinery, so many recyclers do not accept it.

Some cardboard boxes, especially ones designed to hold food or other organic materials, contain a thin layer of polyethylene plastic underneath the cardboard. You’ve likely seen this combination in takeout boxes and disposable coffee cups. The plastic and cardboard are difficult to separate, rendering these products unrecyclable. 

How to Recycle Plastic Bins

Placing your things in plastic bins is a great way to move them from point A to point B. Because plastic storage bins are typically made from polypropylene (plastic #5), a particularly durable and heat-resistant type of plastic, they can be difficult to recycle. Contact your local recycling program to see whether it accepts them. Even if it does have the resources to recycle #5 plastics, these totes might be too large to fit on the truck.

Plastic bins must be clean and dry before recycling. Waste and moisture could weigh them down and prevent them from being properly sorted and recycled.

Can You Recycle Wooden Crates?

Although wooden crates are natural, most curbside pickup recycling programs don’t accept them. The good news is that wooden crates are very durable and dynamic, so you can easily reuse them. 

If you cannot reuse or pass on your wooden crates, you can break them down into individual wood pieces and take them to an appropriate disposal site. Search a website like Earth911 to see if there is a wood recycler near you. And more often than not, your local reuse store will take the wood off your hands.

Ways to Reuse Moving Boxes

Whether your moving boxes are made from cardboard, plastic, wood, or foam, you can reuse them. Reusing your boxes until you can’t anymore is a much more eco-friendly option than recycling or tossing them immediately after use. 

Pass on your boxes to friends, family members, or neighbors who are on the move. Consider reaching out to local residents through social media—that way, people can use your boxes instead of buying brand new ones.