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The List: 7 Ways To Repurpose Cardboard Shipping Boxes

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An empty cardboard box has limitless potential. Here are some ways you can reuse one instead of throwing it in the recycle right away.

It seems like just about everything is available online these days, so my husband and I do a lot of online shopping for everything from clothing to household goods. In fact, from an environmental standpoint, ordering stuff online via delivery is often more eco-friendly than driving to the store, since with online shopping, one delivery truck is driving an efficient route to deliver everyone’s goods in a concentrated area.

But while I love the convenience of getting everything delivered right to my door (not lugging heavy jugs of kitty litter up my steps: Priceless!), there’s one thing I don’t love: The piles of cardboard boxes, plastic wrappings, and other packing materials I’m left with. The bubble wrap can be recycled at a drop-off bin at my supermarket, and I know that I could break down the boxes and put them in my curbside recycling container.

But something about a really sturdy cardboard box just invites creativity, so I’m often tempted to reuse these before recycling them, particularly good shipping boxes. If you like the idea of extending the life of that Amazon.com box by repurposing it, I’ve got some fun ideas for you! Read on…

1. Build a cat condo. Cats are fickle creatures, and there’s a chance that the expensive cat tower you buy at the pet store will be readily ignored. Why not make your own from materials you already have! My daughter has had hours of fun constructing cat condos for my two felines, with inspiration from the book Cat Castles: 20 Cardboard Habitats You Can Build Yourself by Carin Oliver. To my surprise, the cats actually have ventured inside her structures… and when they inevitably lose interest, the condos are retired to the recycle.

2. Make a fort for kids. Why should cats have all the fun? Particularly large cardboard boxes can provide endless entertainment and creativity for kids as they turn them into forts, cars, a play kitchen and more. There’s even a way you can weatherproof a cardboard fort to stand up to the elements outside.

3. Create custom storage. Covered with pretty wrapping paper or contact paper, the right-sized box can make an ideal storage solution inside a closet or on a shelf. You can even screw on decorative handles to make it easier to pull the bin off a shelf or out of a wardrobe.

4. Ship something else. Give that cardboard box more mileage by using it the next time you send a care package to a friend or a birthday gift to your mom. Or, if you don’t have the need, pass the box on to someone who does. In my neighborhood message boards, there are always people looking for cardboard boxes for moving and other needs.

5. Use it in the garden. A cardboard box has multiple uses outside. Lined with plastic, it can be used as a planter. Or, cut open and laid flat, it will act as a barrier under a layer of mulch to smother weeds as it gradually degrades — just make sure any tape is removed first. Smaller boxes also make ideal seed starters, and can be planted in the dirt, box and all!

6. Organize your trunk. I keep a particularly sturdy, box in the trunk of my car. It’s especially good for holding bags of groceries so they don’t topple over and for dividing my trunk into three compartments. I also use it for much more, whether it’s gathering up the various odds and ends that accumulate in the car, or transporting a bunch of snacks to my kid’s soccer game.

7. Decorate with it. Sturdy, lightweight cardboard can be the ideal foundation for many decorative craft projects. Check out this cardboard box craft roundup and get inspired to make a light fixture, a sculpture, or a piece of wall art.

True, often my cardboard boxes still end up in my recycling container after a slight detour as a project. But it sure is nice to make the most of these versatile materials before they’re recycled!

How do you repurpose cardboard boxes? Share your favorite ways in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Les S. 3 days ago
    TOYS! For pets and children. What cat can resist playing in a box? Cut into squares and glued into little buildings (like architects do) can stimulate a child's creativity for hours. I've seen kids construct fully operating vending machines on YouTube...made entirely of cardboard boxes!
  • Antonia P. 15 days ago
    Thanks for the tip about using it as mulch. I never thought of it, but now that I've read it, I can't believe I never thought of it before!
  • Barbara C. 15 days ago
    I always keep 2 in the trunk. One holds my picnic cooler, because I always take a block of that re-freezable ice and put it in the cooler when I go grocery shopping and am buying milk and other perishables. The second box holds my bags of groceries. I'll also use an old cardboard box when I rake up leaves and brush and carry it to my compost pile. And the boxes come in handy when I'm either mailing or packaging Birthday or Christmas presents.
  • erica m. 16 days ago
    Cut them to size for drawer and caninet liners in kitchens and bathrooms. Then cover the top side with attractive contact paper. When I moved out, I tossed the liners and the drawers and cabinets were immaculately clean and new with zero effort since the cardboard padding had absorbed dents and drips.
  • Susan Mayer C. 16 days ago
    My husband keeps a flattened large cardboard box in the garage for when he works on the lawn mower. Better than him laying on the concrete.
    • erica m. 16 days ago
      Agreed, my dad always kept a large flattened corrugated cardboard box under the car that dripped to keep the garage floor clean and safe. My husband uses a huge piece up against the car to keep kids from hitting it when getting bikes and toys from the garage.
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