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One Mark Makes a Difference: A Residential Recycling Initiative by the Industry, for the Industry

By Sarah Meiburg

May 17, 2024


In 2023, more than 88% of consumers recognized the word “sustainability,” but despite the high levels of awareness around the world, only 26% of those same consumers can name a sustainable product, according to The Hartman Group’s Sustainability Report of 2023. This massive awareness gap creates an opportunity for brands and boxmakers alike that are trying to position themselves as environmentally friendly.

One of the clearest meanings consumers associate with sustainability is the recyclability of a product. With the potential for fiber reuse of up to seven times, the corrugated box is the golden child for recycling. And while many consumers claim to recycle regularly, the residential fiber recovery rate in the U.S. is estimated at only 40%, with two out of three boxes ending up in a landfill.

Improving this rate is the impetus behind a new residential recycling initiative rolling out nationwide by the Paper and Packaging Board (P+PB). The Box to Nature program’s goal is to tap into consumers’ desire to do their part for the environment, with a reminder of the simple steps they should take to properly recycle their boxes.

Reaching consumers at the point of package with an impactful message is the perfect opportunity to increase the residential recapture of fiber well above its current rate. But two key pieces need to be in play: an emotional appeal coupled with instructive messaging. Recent message testing research by The Recycling Partnership shows that consumers’ actual recycling behavior improves when they receive more emotional and empathetic messages about recycling. When compared with other recycling marks, Box to Nature is significantly more motivating in part due to its emotional message: “This box has up to seven lives. Our planet has one.”

The other key component is the use of clear and simple instructions that help mitigate consumers’ confusion. The directive to “Empty, Flatten, Recycle”does just that. Qualitative research found that the Box to Nature graphic is dramatically more impactful at getting consumers to recycle than other recycling reminder marks—with 74% agreeing it would motivate them the most. This research shows that the Box to Nature mark presents the right message at the right time to engage consumers and to improve residential recycling rates.

The program has hit its stride throughout the packaging sphere with over 30 participating large and small box manufacturers. In terms of brand adoption, we have several well-known brands interested and moving toward adding the mark to their boxes.

Join the movement to get more boxes back. Contact P+PB at, or learn more at

Sarah Meiburg is director of the Box to Nature program at P+PB.

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