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How to Handle and Remove Corrugated Box Waste in Distribution Applications

Use overhead conveyors for corrugated box removal

Conveyor Systems Inquiry

Overhead conveyor system removing cardboard waste.

Without efficient waste handling flow, systems bog down as people work to clear trash from their work areas. It’s a distraction that significantly impacts productivity and safety, so removing trash from a large scale picking or packing system can be problematic. Pick systems tend to generate empty cartons, and dealing with that waste material can be costly and time consuming if not planned in advance. Devising the right waste (or empty carton) strategy cannot be minimized during the system design process.

Options for trash and empty carton removal

  1. Troughed trash conveyors
  2. Overhead carrier-type conveyor systems
  3. Carts and manual collection processes


The tighter the space, the more difficult it is to remove trash and corrugate. Order picking lines, particularly in pick modules, concentrate more picking in less space. These kinds of operations are often jammed with people picking orders or replenishing stock, so every inch matters. Space for dealing with garbage is often considered wasted space.

Recycled corrugate, when efficiently handled, can generate income on its own. This helps reduce the cost of automating its removal. Recyclers will pay for clean, strapped corrugate.

Overhead carrier trash conveyors

One of the chief advantages of overhead carrier conveyors is that they whisk their loads off the floor, so they don’t interfere with floor-level space. They can easily loop and incline, transporting the empty cartons far overhead after loading. Once the order picker has used a carton, he or she places it on a carrier, which sends it away from the work area for disposal or recycling.

Suspended carrier advantages

  • Carrier-type conveyors can deliver empty cartons for processing and take away used ones using the same rail system. This allows you to push product and cartons to the line using the same conveyor system.
  • These systems easily change directions and follow a flow with minimal space. Belt conveyors can also be mounted overhead, but aren’t as flexible in terms of direction changes and diverts. Rail systems can easily wind their way past overhead obstructions that may interfere with belt conveyors.
  • Suspended carrier conveyors are lighter and can be reconfigured with relative ease.
  • Overhead carrier conveyors minimally interfere with floor-level space. Belt conveyors can also do this, but require more overall space in the process.
  • Carriers can easily tilt and dump when they reach a disposal point. This means that once loaded, these conveyors require no manual handling from point of load to disposal.

suspended carrier overhead conveyor dumping technique into a trash or recycling hopper

Above: carrier loops over disposal bin and tilts to dump corrugate waste for recycling. 

Overhead conveyor carrier types

carrier types for overhead trash conveyors.

Above: type 1 bulk carrier (left); type 2 carton carrier (right)

Bulk carriers (left) let you deal with more than just boxes. Order pickers deposit used cartons into the carrier bed, which transports it to a bin or compactor and tilts automatically to dump the waste. The bulk bin style lets it accommodate more types of trash and waste than only cartons. When you have more types of trash to convey, including dunnage or void filler, use a bin style carrier. You can slot these into the same system as a carton carrier for flexibility.

Carton rod carriers (right) are for cartons only. Operators slip an empty carton over the device, which then conveys it to its termination point. These simple mechanical carriers tilt to dump the carton into a bin or baler later in the process.

Key takeaway: the more space, the greater the need for automated trash collection and transport

Conveyors and automated collection make more sense the larger the operation vs. manual trash collection. The time, energy and space is significant if you need to roll collection bins down aisles to service more areas of the plant. This also requires a dedicated employee or time on shift to do nothing other than collecting and transporting waste. Multiple level systems—such as pick modules—almost always use conveyors for this reason, but plenty of larger single-level systems also convey their trash.

A good rule of thumb: every collection point increases the need for automation and reduces the case for manual systems. 

Belt conveyors for empty corrugate and other debris

Trough belt trash conveyor system for cardboard takeaway.

Flat belt trash conveyors are also used in corrugated carton disposal systems for the same reasons as overhead carrier systems. The conveyor belt sits between two metal angled guards to create a deep trough, typically mounted at reach height over a picking belt. Operators can conveniently place trash on the belt for takeaway to a bin or baler for disposal or recycling.

Trash conveyor from Hytrol

Trough belt advantages for trash conveyance

  • Like overhead carriers, they can incline or decline and convey above the floor to free space.
  • Troughed beds can handle more sizes and types of waste–anything that fits between the trough guards can be conveyed, so they are versatile for handling a wider variety of carton sizes.
  • Belt conveyors can terminate at the point of the bin or baler induction to dump cartons without human involvement.
  • Empty cases are easily placed onto the belt without fitting them to a carrier. They don’t need to be positioned or broken down.
  • Throughput is very high with belt systems, because the belt is always available to operators, who don’t have to wait on a carrier to rid themselves of a carton.

Remember that belt systems are usually positioned beside workstations or above a running line in a pick module or picking belt area, so they should be considered early in the design process.

Belt conveyor systems let operators simply toss their used cartons into the trough and continue working. There is no consideration or time spent on the process.

Manual processes for corrugate disposal

Stack of emptucartons in a warehouse

While far more labor intensive than either type of conveyor, you can also execute trash removal using carts or mobile trash bins. This can work in circumstances where volume is low enough that the process doesn’t require constant removal and there is space to accumulate and transport the boxes. This isn’t usually the case in high-volume distribution centers, where the space and clutter might overwhelm a manual process. You must have space for carts other transport means when you manually dispose of corrugate trash.

As mentioned above: manual systems make increasingly less sense the larger your footprint, the more trash you have, and for multiple collection points. If you’re spending significant time on each shift to manually collect trash from pickers or packers, consider automated alternatives.

What to consider for corrugate box handling in distribution applications

  1. Volume: how many empty cartons are being processed during a designated period (per day, per shift, per hour)
  2. Throughput: how fast you need to remove the cartons
  3. Time: how much time can be spent on the process
  4. Variety: how many sizes and types of cartons are being handled
  5. Space: what kind of space you have available for the process
  6. Utilization: where corrugate waste is generated (shipping picking, receiving)
  7. Termination: how you are sending empty corrugate to a bin, baler or recycling area

These considerations should be weighed during the design phase of a new system, but it is possible to install corrugate waste systems for existing lines with the right design and execution.

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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