Carton recycling has officially reached 60 percent access in the U.S., which means cartons can now be printed with the “chasing arrows” logo, alerting consumers to their recyclability.

That milestone is largely thanks to the work of the Carton Council of North America, which was formed by carton manufacturers in 2009 to build a sustainable infrastructure for carton recycling nationwide. At the time, only 18 percent of U.S. households had access to carton recycling. That’s a 233 percent increase in eight years.

“This represents not only a tremendous win for the Carton Council, but for the recycling industry as a whole,” said Keefe Harrison, executive director of The Recycling Partnership. “Increasing the amount of materials that can be recycled in a community helps meet local recycling goals. It also makes recycling more convenient for residents, which improves recycling overall.”

The Importance of Carton Recycling

Although carton recycling has been available to more than half of the U.S. since 2014, the Federal Trade Commission requires 60 percent access before the “please recycle” chasing arrows can be placed on packaging.

Because cartons are lightweight and compact, they have a low carbon footprint when being shipped. When recycled, they’re often sent to paper mills, where the paper fibers are extracted from the plastic and aluminum layers. Potential new items include napkins, tissues and office paper. The plastic and aluminum parts get a second chance, too, in the manufacturing of lumber board-like materials or as energy to fuel a mill. Some facilities also use whole cartons to make green building materials like wall board, sheathing, ceiling tiles and backer board.

Recycling your cartons used for milk, juice, soup, etc., can make a big difference. Consider this:

A ton of paper made from recycled fibers instead of virgin fibers conserves 7,000 gallons of water, 17 to 31 trees, 4,000 KWh of electricity and 60 pounds of air pollutants.

Hitting the Mainstream

The Carton Council doesn’t plan to stop increasing access to carton recycling now that they’ve got momentum on their side. Next, they’ll be focusing on a campaign to let consumers know that cartons can and should be recycled, for those who might not be aware.

“This is an exciting achievement that could not have been reached without the hard work and collaboration among our partners across the industry,” said Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the Carton Council of North America and vice president, environment, Tetra Pak Americas. “Thanks to the always-growing list of recycling program coordinators, facility operators and recycling company representatives who recognize firsthand the value of carton recycling, we have been able to achieve this remarkable success and are proud that carton recycling is officially mainstream.”

Find out if carton recycling is available in your area and learn more about the process at

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Featured image courtesy of the Carton Council

By Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is based in Seattle, where recycling is just as cool as Macklemore, walking in the rain without an umbrella, and eating locally sourced food. She writes for a wide range of publications, covering everything from sustainability to fitness to travel. Read more of her work here.