Is Cardboard Biodegradable? The Confusing Reality

You’d think that using cardboard is an environmentally friendly way of packaging products. But, there’s a confusing reality that comes with this biodegradable packaging.

The question is, are cardboard boxes as eco-friendly as we think? And what do we do with them once we’ve finished?

Is Cardboard Biodegradable?

When cardboard is not contaminated with water, food or oil it can be recycled. But it is also naturally biodegrade so you don’t have to worry about putting it in the recycling bin to break down.

Cardboard breaking down in soil

But, is it better than Biodegradable plastic bags?

You can argue biodegradable plastic is better for the environment, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Unlike biodegradable plastic, cardboard is reusable. For that reason alone, I’m going to step away from the marketing scheme that surrounds biodegradable plastic.

Is It Better To Compost Or Recycle Cardboard?

Which one is more sustainable?

Both ways of disposing of our leftover cardboard, are having bad effects on our environment sometimes it comes down to the lesser of two evils.

Let’s start with the pro and cons of recycling waste cardboard:


Deforestation has been a massive problem for years, and it’s only getting worse.

Every year in the US, paper consumption is getting higher and higher, and with companies being more wasteful than ever, we are seeing detrimental effects happening across the globe.

A mountain of waste cardboard

Many people think that recycling is the answer to deforestation, and in some ways, they are right. By recycling, we stop the need for another tree to get chopped down, which is always a good thing.

But, what people don’t see is the other side of the story, which isn’t as environmentally friendly.

Recycling plants are one of the biggest polluters of water the US has seen. Each sheet created uses 10 liters of water which is mixed with chemicals.

The leftover pulp, which, by now, has become very toxic, is now returned to the water source, from which we drink.


Cardboard is made from natural materials which makes it compostable; meaning it can breakdown in natural elements and leave no harmful toxins.

In fact, adding unbleached cardboard to your compost heap can be very beneficial.

They say soiled paper-based materials should be composted, such as: Not only does it help prevent it from getting stinky, but it adds balance.
worms eating cardboard in compost heap

The nutrients that come from compost heaps can be used to give the food in our gardens the boost they need.

Composting also helps to stop the emissions, that are involved when it comes to the whole recycling business; these emissions include:

  • The manufacture of recycling bins
  • No trucks to transport the waste paper
  • The machinery
  • The recycling plant
  • Stops chemicals being used

If composting can stop all this pollution, then surely composting would be the better option, right?

Unfortunately, cutting down of more trees is worse for us than using the emissions used to recycle.

But, composting cardboard is better for us than recycling in some cases, according to Dakota Valley Recycling. They say soiled paper-based materials should be composted, such as:

  • Pizza Boxes
  • Paper Towels
  • Egg Cartons

How Long Does It Take For Cardboard To Decompose In The Ground?

If you’ve been following our posts, you might have seen our chart of biodegradable materials in our is paper biodegradable post.

If you haven’t, I’ve got you covered.

On average cardboard takes around 2 months until the biodegradable material breaks down.

Ripped up cardboard decomposing

Although this does depend on a few factors:

  • The Type Of Cardboard – If it’s covered with wax, it takes longer.
  • The State Of The Cardboard – If it has been ripped up or damaged the fibers will break down quicker.
  • The Environment – The presence of heat and moisture helps biodegradable materials to break down.

I’m sure that answers any questions you may have had about cardboard, and it’s biodegradable properties. But if it didn’t get in touch and comment below.

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Are you looking for your biodegradability fix? Why not check out my article to find out the truth: Is gum biodegradable?

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