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What's the secret to recycling cardboard? Ask Michigan's Recycling Raccoons

Carlos Cardboard Recycling Raccoon (With gift giving season approaching, many people will be ordering items delivered in cardboard boxes. In this edition of MI Environment, Carlos Cardboard of the Recycling Raccoon Squad has some tips on how to recycle cardboard.)

If you want to improve your recycling habits, it's best to listen to the experts.

That's why we asked Carlos Cardboard to sit down with us and clarify some of the most confounding cardboard questions. Carlos is part of the six-member Michigan Recycling Raccoon Squad, whose mission is to teach Michiganders what can - and cannot - be recycled.

These furry recycling champions are part of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy's (EGLE) Know It Before You Throw It education campaign, which kicked off this summer in every corner of the state.

EGLE's goal is to double the state's recycling rate to 30% by 2025 and ultimately reach 45%. Right now, Michigan's 15% recycling rate is the lowest in the Great Lakes states region and ranks among the lowest in the nation.

Carlos is a cardboard connoisseur and obsessed with flattening. A snappy dresser, he has a bow tie for every day of the week. Most of all, he loves sharing best practices for recycling cardboard.

What kinds of cardboard are OK to recycle?

Great question! I reaaaallly love recycling cardboard, don't you? It's so … well … boxy! My favorites are tissue boxes, paper towel and toilet paper rolls, cardboard packaging and food boxes that you'd keep in the pantry - those are all good to go in the recycling bin. So, go for it!

Can I recycle my freezer food boxes?

Boxed containers made for refrigerator and freezer foods have added chemicals to keep the boxes from getting soggy and wet. That makes them difficult to recycle - but not impossible. I'd suggest checking with your local recycling provider to see if it accepts them.

Should I stack my boxes inside one another as a do-it-yourself recycling bin?

No. Boxes are bulky and take up extra room in the trucks that pick them up; flattening them saves space and makes the sorting process easier. Like I always say, "Flattery will get you nowhere, but flattening will!"

Are empty juice cartons recyclable?

Many communities accept cartons in their curbside recycling program, but not all. That's because juice and milk cartons are actually made of two or three layers of paper, plastic and aluminum, which makes them trickier to recycle.

Should I peel off labels and tape from boxes before I recycle them?

Best recycling practice is to take the tape off. So, while you don't have to remove them, your recycler would love it if you did.

Why doesn't my recycler accept pizza boxes?

Grease and stuck-on food on pizza boxes ruins the cardboard for recycling. It can also ruin the other items in your recycling bin by getting them dirty and greasy. Want my secret? If the pizza box top is clean, I rip it off and recycle that portion. Then I eat all that gooey cheese left in the box and throw that part in the trash.

Should I remove staples from cardboard?

Nope! Staples are OK to leave in. Just make sure that cardboard is flat - just how I like it!

Overall, it's important to keep in mind that every community has different rules about recycling. So be sure to check with your local provider to find out what's accepted in your area.

To learn more about the rules of recycling and meet the Michigan Recycling Raccoon Squad, visit

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