If you look around your local grocery store today, you’ll notice products you purchase are available in cartons — from the soups and broths on shelves to the milk, juice and creamers in the refrigerated section. Cartons are made primarily from a renewable resource, are lightweight and compact in design, and have a low carbon footprint. As a result, the sustainable packaging solution is increasing in use for a variety of liquid and food products.
“There is no question that cartons are a growing packaging solution for many food and beverage products,” says Blaine McPeak, president, WhiteWave Foods. “Because they are an environmentally friendly package, ensuring there is an infrastructure in place for Americans to recycle them is a vital piece to the sustainability puzzle.”
When four carton manufacturers joined together in 2009 to create the Carton Council of North America, only 18 percent of Americans had access to a curbside or drop-off carton recycling program. Today, that number has swelled to 50 percent — more than 8,400 communities and 58 million households.
“This milestone was achieved through industry collaboration and is the result of successful private-public partnerships,” says Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the Carton Council of North America and vice president, environment, Tetra Pak North America.
These partnerships have been a huge part of the success, as an undertaking this big doesn’t work without the buy-in of multiple groups, including city leaders, recycling program coordinators and facility operators. The Carton Council provides capital and technical support to sorting facilities, education and outreach resources, and assistance implementing school carton recycling programs.
Education and awareness have also been key factors in increasing access and recovery of cartons, as many people didn’t know cartons could be recycled. In fact, they’re made from a valuable material, thanks to their high-quality, virgin long fibers that can be turned into tissue, premium writing paper, construction paper and building products. Some cartons include thin layers of polyethylene (plastic) and thin layers of aluminum, materials that can also be recovered and recycled. So, when the contents are gone, let the carton live on by placing it in your recycle bin or cart.
Looking ahead, the Carton Council hopes to extend access to 55 percent by the end of 2014. “While we pause to celebrate the achievement of 50 percent, it’s important to note that we are not done growing access,” Pelz says. “Cartons belong with the rest of mainstream recycling commodities, in all recycling bins/carts and accepted in all programs, across the country.”
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.