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What is a Cardboard Box?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated: May 17, 2024

Cardboard is a term used to describe a thick, wood-based product made up of paper pulp. It should not be confused with cardstock, as it is more rigid and durable. It is heavier in construction due to layering and frequently the addition of glue.

The cardboard box was originally created as a substitute shipping carton, replacing heavier, more expensive crates generally used for shipping products from one location to another. Crates and cartons have been made from a variety of materials from wood to hard plastic. Using a cardboard box rather than a crate is said to be better for the environment, as it is readily recyclable as well as biodegradable, and can often be made from recycled materials to begin with.

The design of the typical cardboard box is layered, utilizing a flat “liner” made of pressed paper pulp on both sides of a corrugated center layer. Sheets or rolls of pressed paper can be run through a machine to achieve the corrugated effect, by creating a fluted layer. Glue is added as the layers are bonded together. This process makes the material stronger and provides better padding for items placed inside the box.

A heavier design of the corrugated cardboard box is known as “double wall.” This construction uses five layers instead of three as described above. Double wall cardboard includes a second inside liner as well as an additional corrugated layer.

Rather than being made from hardwoods as some paper products are, a corrugated cardboard box is generally made from paper fibers obtained from softwoods. Softwoods can be readily replenished because they grow much faster than hardwoods. In fact, softwoods can be planted at a rate that keeps them more plentiful than what is needed to create paper products.

Aside from becoming a popular replacement for the shipping crate, boxes made from cardboard have also found other uses. It began being used widely, in other designs, as packaging for products such as foods. Breakfast cereal is a perfect example. This type of box was generally made from sheets of cardboard but the name is often used interchangeably with corrugated boxes.

Today, fiberboard has replaced cardboard to a great extent. Recycled materials are often used to create the fiberboard or pressed paper found in the type of container we refer to as a cardboard box. This is not only a more cost-effective alternative but is also more environmentally friendly.

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Discussion Comments
By strawCake — On Feb 14, 2012

Cardboard moving boxes have another use not mentioned in the article: as a cat toy. I have a cat, and he loves cardboard boxes of all kinds. I have pictures of him trying to sit in shoe boxes (he is a 20 pound cat, so this didn't quite work out the way he had hoped), but his favorite kind of cardboard box is the kind that comes as the bottom of a package of bottled water.

After I used up the bottled water, I take the plastic off, and just leave the box sitting somewhere. My cat will happily squeeze himself into the box and use it just like a cat bed.

By KaBoom — On Feb 13, 2012

@JaneAir - A corrugated box convention? Now I've heard everything!

I will admit, cardboard boxes are quite useful. Last time I moved, I decided to just buy cardboard boxes to use for my books and papers. I got some of those bankers boxes from Wal-mart, and they were just the right size to fit into the cubbies on my bookcase. I was able to pack all my books up and then put the box right back on the shelf so my apartment wasn't cluttered with boxes right before I moved.

By JaneAir — On Feb 12, 2012

Many people don't know this, but the cardboard box industry is pretty big. This shouldn't be surprising if you think about it for a second though, because cardboard boxes have many and varied uses (moving, storage, shipping, etc.) You can even get custom cardboard boxes!

My boyfriend works in a hotel, and awhile ago his hotel hosted a corrugated box convention. Yes, you read that right. A whole convention dedicated to the cardboard box industry. From what my boyfriend told me, it was a large convention with speakers and many people there who represented big businesses.

By lighth0se33 — On Feb 11, 2012

@andee – I wish that my county had a recycling center. Here, we just have to be creative and reuse whatever we can.

Anytime I have a cardboard box that I don't need, I take a box cutter and slice off the flaps. Then, I use them a couple of ways.

My husband and I like to eat in the living room, but the coffee table is kind of low to eat over. So, we each put a cardboard box flap in our laps to keep our plates steady and serve as a tiny table.

I also use cardboard box flaps when painting my nails. I put one in my lap and rest my hands on it as I paint, and it doesn't matter at all if I get polish on the cardboard. This is much better than using a nice table or my pants for support!

By John57 — On Feb 10, 2012

When we were getting ready to move from the house we had lived in for 20 years, I was feeling overwhelmed.

To simplify the process I bought cardboard boxes for moving in. This streamlined the process for me and helped me feel much more organized.

I put in how many rooms of "stuff" I would be moving, and I received a moving kit with all the cardboard boxes and supplies I needed.

There were several different sizes of boxes and I knew they would be heavy duty boxes that would handle a load.

There is nothing more frustrating than picking up a box and having the bottom of it fall out underneath you. I have a lot of books, and knew I needed heavy cardboard boxes that would hold up.

Even though some people might think I am crazy for looking for cardboard boxes for sale, I found this worked best for me. I didn't have to worry about finding the right size boxes and making several trips to the store and hoping they would remember to save them for me.

By orangey03 — On Feb 10, 2012

Every item that I order online comes in a cardboard box, and I have saved every one of them. I now have a variety of box shapes and sizes.

I find that this is much more efficient than buying cardboard gift boxes. I like to add my own wrapping paper and ribbon anyway, and most of the Christmas boxes you buy are covered in decorative patterns. I like the plain brown exterior of shipping boxes, because I don't feel like I'm covering anything up when I wrap them.

I save all boxes, small and large. I never know what I will end up buying people for Christmas and birthdays, so it pays to have all sizes on hand.

By Perdido — On Feb 09, 2012

My uncle owns a warehouse, so I can get a lot of free cardboard boxes when I need them. When my husband and I moved into a small, two-bedroom house, those boxes came in handy.

We had temporarily designated the second bedroom as our storage room, though we eventually wanted to turn it into a guest bedroom. All of the clutter really bothered me, so I went through the room and filed everything away in the cardboard boxes alphabetically.

I felt so much better when everything was boxed up and stacked against the wall. We couldn't have afforded to buy storage tubs for all that stuff, so the cardboard boxes were just what we needed.

By andee — On Feb 09, 2012

@julies - I think that recycling cardboard boxes is one of the easiest things to recycle. Once we started using a recycling bin on a regular basis, I found that cardboard boxes filled up the bin faster than anything else we used on a regular basis.

Between the cardboard boxes for cereal, soda and anything we have delivered in the mail, we can fill up our bin quickly with cardboard boxes.

When we have extremely large cardboard boxes, my husband saves them to use in the garage. He spends a lot of time working out in the garage, and he uses them to lie on instead of the cold, hard garage floor.

By shell4life — On Feb 08, 2012

I bought some cardboard shipping boxes when I started selling my artwork online. In anticipation of making sales, I ordered in bulk.

The cool thing about cardboard boxes is that they can be folded flat without being destroyed. Though I ordered about fifty boxes, they all fit inside one long cardboard box, because they had been flattened to fit.

Even though I ended up not selling very much artwork, I made good use of the boxes. I have been storing my art inside of them to keep it from getting dusty or damaged, and I gave my sister some of the boxes to use while she was moving out.

By julies — On Feb 07, 2012

I love to use heavy cardboard boxes whenever we move. The best ones are those that are made of heavy cardboard and have a lid. Cardboard boxes that come with paper for copy machines make great moving boxes.

Whenever I know I am going to be moving, I begin collecting free cardboard boxes to make my move in. I know companies will sell cardboard moving boxes, but I have never had any trouble finding enough free ones to use.

Many stores will save some back for you if you let them know you will be there by a certain time to pick them up. Once I am done with them, I either pass them along to someone else who is moving or will recycle them.

By Mykol — On Feb 07, 2012

Cardboard boxes have so many uses, I find it very easy to recycle them. I remember when my kids were younger, they would have more fun playing with the big cardboard box than the gift that came in the box.

Once when we bought some new appliances, they used the big cardboard boxes to make a "house" to play in.

That is why I found it so interesting to find out you can now buy cardboard boxes as gifts for kids.

For Christmas, my grandson received a big cardboard box house. This came equipped with a front door, windows and scenes for him to color on the outside of the box.

Something that we recycled and saw as free is now being sold as a gift!

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