Carton Recycling

Posted on 2/20/2014 12:12:04 PM By Jeff Timm

As the packaging industry strives to become more inclusive in bringing more and more materials into the recycling umbrella, one of the newer materials that is building a critical mass and stronger recycling base is cartons.  Just for clarity, cartons in this case are not paper folding cartons (i.e. cereal, rice, pasta cartons) that are commonly collected in mixed stream curbside pick-ups along with paper and corrugated in most communities in the U. S.

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Source: Carton Council of North America

Rather, I am referring to cartons that are a type of packaging normally used for food and beverage products.  They are available in two types—shelf-stable and refrigerated.  Cartons are mainly made from paper in the form of paperboard, and have a thin layer of polyethylene (PE).  The shelf stable ones also have a thin layer of aluminum. Shelf-stable cartons contain on average 74% paper, 22% polyethylene and 4% aluminum by weight.  Refrigerated cartons contain about 80% paper and 20% polyethylene by weight.

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Source: Container Council of Canada

Common items packaged in shelf-stable cartons include juice, milk (including soy and grain varieties), soup/broth and wine.  Products commonly packaged in refrigerated cartons are milk, juice, cream and egg substitutes.

According to the Carton Council of North America cartons are now being recycled by 48% of U. S. households, which represents a 16.4% increase since 2012.  Carton recycling has expanded from 43 to 45 U. S. states, representing 56.1 million households that now have the ability to recycle cartons.  An interesting fact that highlights this explosive growth in recycling activity is that just 18% of U. S. households had access to carton recycling in 2009. To find out specifics on where cartons are recycled in North America check out this recycle cartons link.

Growth in carton recycling activity has occurred due to strong support from carton manufactures, as well as the Carton Council.  These combined efforts will continue as more recycling professionals, waste management organizations and municipal governments recognize the value of recycled cartons and how easy it is to recycle them.  More details on these efforts are available here.  You can also view a presentation on carton container recycling check out this presentation by the Carton Council of Canada, which is part of the Carton Council of North America.

Carton recycling is proving to be a valuable entry into the North American recycling stream, joining other relatively new products in the mix such as mono-layer plastic film and multi-layer film packaging.  All these products decease the carbon footprint, contribute to sustainability efforts and work towards the goal of zero waste.  Now, if only I could locate a convenient place to recycle my empty soda bottle while I’m driving along in my car…

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