How to recycle your cardboard correctly in Boston

Turns out, if you aren't recycling right, you could face a fine.

Boston-02/28/18- Cardboard  boxes are overwhelming people due to online shopping. A large box leaning against a recycle bin on H Street in South Boston partially blocks the sidewalk.  John Tlumacki/Globe Staff(metro)
A large box leaning against a recycle bin on H Street in South Boston partially blocks the sidewalk. –John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

If you make purchases on, have your groceries delivered, or even do some occasional online shopping, chances are you have plenty of cardboard boxes at your house.

“We definitely are inundated with cardboard,” said Brian Coughlin, superintendent of waste reduction for the City of Boston. “It’s convenient to shop online, but it’s what happens after [shoppers] get the package that impacts the city the most.”

The city will dispose of 240,000 tons of waste this year, of which 40,000 will be recycled, Coughlin said. Between 13 and 16 percent of those 40,000 tons will be comprised of cardboard, he said. So it’s important to dispose of it properly.


Coughlin offered the following four tips for city residents.

Leave your recyclables outside in the proper bin

If you live in a building that has between one and six units, each unit can request a 64-gallon, blue recycling bin by calling 311, according to Coughlin. You’re also able to use a trash barrel or bin of your own that’s up to 96 gallons, he said. However, whatever you decide to use, it must have a city-supplied sticker that identifies it as holding recyclable materials, which you can call 311 for, too, and it will be delivered within a day or two.

For buildings with seven or more units, residents can get their bins through the building’s management.

If you don’t follow the rules and use an improper bin such as a paper grocery bag — or no bin at all — you could wind up with a ticket resulting in a $25 fine, Coughlin said. A code enforcement officer who either happens upon the violation or is tipped off by a complaint could write you a ticket for improper storage of trash and recycling.

“Everything needs to be contained,” Coughlin said.

You should set recyclables out at the curb by 7 a.m. on your collection day (or anytime after 5 p.m. on the evening before).

Break your cardboard down and bundle it


If your cardboard doesn’t fit in your bin, Coughlin said to break it down and bundle it before putting it on the curb with your recycling bin. Only cardboard is allowed outside the bin, but it must be prepared properly.

First things first, remove all of the the packing tape, Coughlin said.

“It takes a little time, but it’s the best thing to do to flatten them all and stack them all up together,” he said.

The boxes should be cut or folded so  all together they are no larger than 3 feet by 3 feet, then bundled together using twine or tape. You want to use masking tape or packing tape, not duct tape, to bundle them so that it’s easy for workers to peel the tape off once the boxes are collected, Coughlin said.

Make sure your cardboard is clean before you recycle it

This means really greasy pizza boxes and moving boxes that have suffered wet spills are not good candidates for recycling, Coughlin said. Throwing dirty items or improper items into the recyclable bin can waste taxpayers’ money by contaminating other items or clogging up recycling machinery, he explained.

“When in doubt, throw it out,” he said.

Get the city app

Boston has a Trash Day app that will help you keep track of your neighborhood’s trash and recyclable pickup days. Once you download the app, you can enter your address to customize the information provided.

The app will also let you know things like when pickups are delayed due to holidays and whether an item is recyclable. For example, according to the app, pizza boxes are recyclable, as long as they don’t contain food residue (however, the liners should go in the trash), but cardboard packages of soup broth are not recyclable and should be placed in the garbage.