Cartons have been growing in popularity as a packaging format for food and beverage products in the U.S. As a lightweight and compact package, they have a low carbon footprint and it’s easy for companies to ship and store them. And they are recyclable.

That’s why in 2009, a group of carton manufacturers teamed up to create the Carton Council of North America. Their goal is to prevent cartons from going into landfills. This means making it easy for Americans to recycle cartons, along with their other commonly recycled materials.

“As carton manufacturers, we have a mission to grow carton recycling in the U.S.,” says Carla Fantoni, head of communications for the Carton Council and vice president, communications, Tetra Pak. “Cartons are made from responsibly sourced paper and contain high-quality material that can be recycled into new products, such as writing paper, paper towels, tissues and even green building materials.”

What Exactly Is a Carton?

Cartons are used to package a wide variety of foods. Most people don’t realize all the products that currently come in cartons, such as milk, juice, creamer, water, broth, soup and even wine. Because shelf-safe cartons don’t require refrigeration, they are easy for consumers to store in their pantry and they allow even sensitive products such as milk to be consumed safely anytime anywhere.

Not only are cartons growing in popularity with consumers, food and beverage producers and retailers, they also contain valuable fiber for recycling. What does this mean? Manufacturers want recovered cartons so they can be recycled into other products, such as paper products or even building materials. The ReWall Company recently opened headquarters in the U.S. They use whole cartons to make green building materials like wall board, sheathing, ceiling tiles and backer board.

Easier to Recycle

The Carton Council has been working to make it easier for Americans to recycle cartons. This includes building an infrastructure to support the need and demand for recovered cartons, and ensuring that carton recycling is beneficial to the recycling industry and communities that operate recycling programs. The Carton Council has worked with communities and recycling facilities nationwide to add cartons as a recyclable material in local curbside and drop-off programs. Once cartons are accepted, they often work with communities to help educate the local residents to place their cartons in the recycling bin.

Before the Carton Council began their efforts, only 18 percent of U.S. households could recycle cartons in their community. Now more than half — 53 percent — can, and this number is growing all the time! More than 62 million households across the country can now recycle cartons conveniently at the curb or via drop-off programs.

Find out if cartons can be recycled in your community by visiting and entering your ZIP code.

Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. Carton Council is one of these partners.

Feature image courtesy of Pak.

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.