How long does it take for cardboard to decompose?

How long does it take for cardboard to decompose?

Cardboard is a relatively biodegradable material. Given the right conditions, microorganisms and bacteria, the fibres in the cardboard can break down and turn it into soil.

The time it takes for this to happen depends on a number of circumstances, such as type of cardboard and the conditions the cardboard has to decompose in.

With the right conditions, cardboard typically takes around 2 months to decompose naturally.

Cardboard stacked

Conditions for decomposing

The conditions in which the cardboard has to decompose are very important when it comes to how quickly it will biodegrade. Ideal conditions include moisture, warmth, and lots of microorganisms. When cardboard gets wet it pulls apart and disintegrates, this helps to speed along the process so moisture is very important.

Type of cardboard

The above figure is based on standard corrugated cardboard. It gets a bit trickier when considering heavily processed cardboard such as juice cartons and coffee cups, as this is lined with a waxy coating to make it water resistant. While these products still do biodegrade, the fact that water cannot help to break them down prolongs the process. This type of cardboard takes up to 5 years to decompose.

Amount of cardboard

Huge stacks of cardboard will take much longer to decay. This is because the elements and microorganisms can’t get to the fibres. Big stacks can take years to decompose. Cardboard shouldn’t be sent to landfill for this reason. In landfills the waste is piled up and stacked so it’s very difficult for materials to break down naturally.

cardboard bundled up

What to do with waste cardboard

The best thing you can do for the environment with waste cardboard is to send it to reuse. Reusing anything is good for the planet, because you are reducing waste and preventing the need for more products to be manufactured, which in turn saves precious resources.

Reuseabox rescues once-used cardboard boxes and sends them out to be reused by other companies, saving trees, carbon, water and energy!

An image explaining that reusing one tonne of cardboard boxes saves: 5.2 trees, 0.7 tonnes of carbon, 4,315 KWH of energy, and 148,352 litres of water

If your cardboard cannot be reused but is still dry, consider recycling it. This way the fibres will be made into new cardboard boxes and will not pollute landfills.

Another great thing to do with your cardboard is compost it. After two months in a compost it will have decayed into soil which is rich in nutrients for your plants in your garden. Getting it wet and breaking it apart before putting it in your compost bin will help to speed up the process.


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