Composting Corrugated

In October of 2011, the city of Portland, Oregon shifted garbage collection service to every other week and introduced a new weekly curbside compost collection service for food scraps, pizza delivery boxes, paper napkins and paper towels. As part of the 2007 Portland Recycles! Plan, the program is aimed at further reducing the amount of waste that Portland's 583,000 residents send to landfill.

Portland is already a model recycling community collecting 85 percent of the materials that can be recycled at curbside including corrugated, most other paper products and some plastics and metals. Adding food scraps to yard debris, the city has nearly tripled the amount of yard debris collected during the prior year according to the program's Year One Report released in December 2012. In addition, the amount of residential garbage collected curbside has decreased by an estimated 38 percent.

Portland's continued recovery progress is making other cities take notice and expanding the conversation about end-of-life scenarios for the products we all consume.

Corrugated packaging has the highest recovery rate of any packaging material. In 2011, just over 91 percent of corrugated was recovered for recycling (rates for 2012 will be available later this spring). This is a great achievement, but it didn't happen overnight. In fact, it took nearly 20 years of industry focus and steady recovery growth to get from the 1993 rate of 54 percent to where we are today. Along the way, there have been some challenges, and like the city of Portland, our industry has continued to explore ways to capture the ever-shrinking amount of corrugated that is not easily recycled.

Yesterday, Fibre Box Association vice president Brian O'Banion hosted a member webinar to address compostability of corrugated. For our industry, recycling is the first choice. But what happens to the small percentage of boxes that aren't recycled? Can they be composted instead? Unfortunately, there's no quick answer. Over the past year, the Corrugated Packaging Alliance (CPA) has been working with the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) and testing labs OWS and NSF International to explore testing and certification of corrugated products. While initial screening tests showed positive results for items like pizza boxes currently accepted in Portland, there are limitations that go beyond the box.

To learn more about the compostability of corrugated, visit the FBA website at

The compostability webinar is the second in a year-long series of monthly webinars FBA will be hosting for members this year. Each webinar will explore an industry issue or a program available from the association. It's our hope that like the buzz being generated by Portland, these webinars will help to create additional conversations about recycling, composting and the many other virtues of corrugated packaging.

Items currently accepted in Portland, Oregon's weekly curbside collection of compost.

Rachel Kenyon
City / State:  


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