If you produce cardboard waste in volume you'll know that the price of baled cardboard waste is falling again (as of end of 2022), which means that reuse is even better for your company's finances, and will be for some time to come. You'll also know that the price of baled cardboard waste fluctuates wildly over time, and unpredictability is hard on businesses.
Cardboard prices per tonne 2020 to 2023
We have been tracking the value of waste cardboard for many years. Here is an updated breakdown of the price per tonne of cardboard in the UK for the last 3 years:
The price per tonne of scrap cardboard went from an all time low of around £13 per tonne at the end of 2019 (this is no longer reflected in the graph as we update it regularly). It was at a shocking high of around £150 per tonne in the middle of 2022 (max. price was actually £165). A sharp drop in Autumn 2022 showed the volatility of prices, which bounced back in December but started to fall again in May 2023.
While baling cardboard waste might have been attractive at its 2022 peak and some companies have been riding high on these increased prices, rebates are now falling.
What the experts think
Mike Sadler, Managing Director at Sadlers, gave us his expert input on what’s been happening over the last three years.
“During the first covid lockdown in the UK we saw a crisis beginning to emerge. Factory shutdowns affected the supply of new cardboard boxes, and a slowdown in recycling collections combined with a change in consumer purchasing meant that there wasn’t enough material available to be recycled. This is how the cardboard box shortages began” he said.
“We predicted that prices would start to fall again after lockdown restrictions and that’s exactly what happened for a short while. What we didn’t see coming in those first few weeks of lockdowns were the unpredictable and last-minute later lockdowns in 2020 and 2021” he continued.
“In fact, this highlights the problem with baling and scrapping cardboard waste – the markets are very unpredictable, so the prices can move constantly. This makes it hard for companies to budget and forecast. Just when prices appeared to be returning to normal, we saw Brexit affect borders and supply chains, followed by the tragedy of the war in Ukraine which affected energy prices in manufacturing.”
What's happening now
So what now? As of August 2023, the value of scrap cardboard is dropping again. Some stability had returned for a while, but the fall is bad news for companies who bale and recycle their waste as it is now worth less and less.
For reference, here is an infographic we made in July 2020 to demonstrate what happened to the value of cardboard at the start of the covid pandemic. This price surge and subsequent drop was just the start!
And here is how things have changed in the last year (September 2022 – August 2023):
Of course, we have the solution:
Cardboard box recycling: the options
There are different ways that companies can make money from used boxes:
- Some businesses choose to recycle material through a waste paper company. This will often involve charges for the placement of an on-site container which can become costly.
- Others choose to buy or rent a cardboard baler and sell directly to a paper mill. Once again, this can be costly and the cardboard loses value once it is baled.
- Many larger organisations outsource to a waste management company who will try to find the best option for their client: sometimes the best option might be speed or convenience, sometimes it is the most sustainable, and sometimes the best option is the one that offers the best rebates for their waste. A good waste management company will weigh up how best to manage all types of waste on site, based on each customer's requirements. This may involve working with us to divert waste to reuse.
The advantage of diverting used boxes to reuse with Sadlers is that the scheme ticks all of those boxes:
- speed and convenience
- environmental sustainability
- financial gains and security
Considering buying a cardboard baler?
Think again, unless your waste cardboard is mixed or damaged. If simple changes to waste segregation could result in pallets of consistently-sized, reusable boxes, sell your cardboard boxes to us! Buying a cardboard baler so that you can sell cardboard to paper mills requires a large investment, as does renting one. Diverting to reuse however costs nothing... in fact it pays well.
Who buys cardboard boxes?
Sadlers are the leading buyers of used and redundant cardboard boxes in the UK. Using our transport network we'll collect directly from your site - simple and effective. We have been doing this very successfully with a wealth of experience and have come across many different questions, scenarios and barriers which we have helped customers understand or overcome.
Lets Recycle prices: an analysis
Using historical waste prices from Lets Recycle we can demonstrate the volatility of prices associated with baling cardboard waste.
For example, in August 2019, the average price for baled cardboard was around £40 - £55 per tonne. Not great.
By December that year, it had fallen to £10 - £15 per tonne! This massive drop presented huge problems in the waste management world as companies were paying to have their cardboard waste taken away!
The price surged throughout 2021 and pushed even higher in mid-2022 but by the end of October it had already shown three months of steep decline.
The price bounced back a little at the start of 2023, only to start falling again.
However, those who were already selling their boxes for reuse were benefiting not only from high rebates for their waste, but crucially, stability in prices. When you divert to reuse, and you work with us on a regular basis, we can guarantee a price for the long-term, giving a level of security that cushion from shocks in the market.
It's not only domestic problems that cause baled waste price shocks. Global issues have lasting effects too. It's just too unpredictable to rely on as a way to manage the disposal of used cardboard boxes.
How much can I get for my used boxes?
Do you create large volumes of reusable cardboard boxes on a regular basis?
Or do you have a one-off supply of used or surplus boxes?
Are these boxes consistently-sized, e.g. a small range of sizes but in relatively large volumes?
If you think you may be eligible for cardboard box reuse, call 0121 772 5200 or tap the 'get a quote button' on our we buy boxes page. We look forward to hearing from you.
Author: Lauren Sadler | MSc Sustainable Development
Bio: Lauren is passionate about the circular economy and enjoys writing about packaging, business and sustainability - particularly zero waste and reuse.