How to Recycle Cartons

Cartons like those used for milk, juice, soy or grain milk and soup are recyclable. Curbside programs continue to increase their carton recycling rate throughout the U.S., and there are drop-off and mail-in options available as well. Despite the type, refrigerated or shelf stable, cartons are a valuable source of material to make products like tissue, paper towel, and even building materials.

But that is not all. Cartons are made mainly from paper, a renewable resource. Unlike finite resources that will be gone once they’re depleted, renewable resources are there forever, if well managed.

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Frequent Carton Recycling Questions

Are cartons recyclable?

Yes. Made from mostly paper, the high-quality materials used in cartons make them very desirable for remanufacturing into new products.

Can cartons go in my curbside recycling?

Cartons are accepted by curbside programs for about 63 percent of U.S. households. This is more than a 200 percent increase from a decade ago, proving curbside access is on the rise.

Does the plastic cap need to be removed?

Good recycling etiquette typically includes removing the plastic lids, caps and straws from cartons and rinsing your empty cartons. However, always check with your local program for specific recycling directions.

How is the paper in cartons able to hold liquid?

Depending on the type of carton (refrigerated or shelf-stable) the paper is lined with layers of plastic or plastic and aluminum to provide stability and keep the product inside as fresh as possible.

Why don’t all cartons have a recycling number on them?

In order for any packaging to be able to feature the recycle symbol, recycling of that packaging must be available to a majority of households in the United States. This process is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. Cartons are making progress towards placing the recycle symbol on packages, but currently, many cartons do not feature the recycle symbol. Consumers can determine if cartons are recyclable in their program by searching for your local carton recycling options.

What’s the difference between refrigerated and shelf-stable cartons?

Though all are primarily made from paper, not all cartons are built alike.

Refrigerated cartons (sometimes referred to has “gable-top”) like the kinds used to house your milk, egg substitutes and orange juice in the chilly part of the grocery store contain additional layers of plastic for proper preservation.

Cartons in the cabinet are referred to as “shelf-stable” or “aseptic”, and in order to preserve non-refrigerated products like soup and broth, wine, soy milk and the like, they contain additional layers of plastic and aluminum.

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