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Carton Recycling Access Reaches 50 Percent Milestone

June 30, 2014
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The Carton Council of North America announces that fifty percent of U.S. households can now recycle cartons through curbside and other local recycling programs. More food and beverage products are being packaged in cartons because they are considered a sustainable packaging solution as they are made primarily from a renewable resource, are lightweight and compact, and have a low carbon footprint. With this strong environmental profile, cartons offer one more way for consumers to make smart, environmentally-minded purchasing decisions, and now even more consumers can recycle them. Achieving this milestone signifies the great progress made by the industry, with the support of countless packaging, sustainability, recycling and municipal stakeholders.

“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.”

Carton recycling access has grown 177 percent over the last five years, starting at just 18 percent in 2009 when the Carton Council was first formed. Since then, progress has been made in building infrastructure and improving access to carton recycling nationwide. The Carton Council is a group of carton manufacturers united to deliver long-term collaborative solutions in order to divert valuable cartons from the landfill. 

“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. “Thanks to recycling program coordinators, facility operators and recycling company representatives who have recognized firsthand the value of carton recycling and who are committed to helping increase access, we have been able to achieve tremendous, and unprecedented, growth, reaching 50 percent access in just five years. And every day, more of our customers and stakeholders get involved to help us advance carton recycling, and we welcome them with open arms.”

While products such as aluminum cans and paper have been part of the recycling stream for years, cartons have been among the last frontier of materials to be readily recyclable. With access growing every day, cartons are quickly becoming a standard recyclable material. Since 2009, carton recycling access has been added to more than 36 million homes and is now in 77 of the top 100 U.S. cities. Today, more than 58 million homes in 46 states have access to carton recycling.
“While we pause to celebrate the achievement of 50 percent, it’s important to note that we’re not stopping here,” says Pelz. “Cartons belong with the rest of mainstream recycling commodities, in all recycling bins/carts and accepted in all programs, across the country. In fact, 50 percent is just one milestone for us. We envision the day when cartons are recycled everywhere and no cartons end up in landfills. It is with this ambition that we are marching full speed ahead.” 

With the support of packaging, supply chain and sustainability stakeholders, communities across the country are successfully adding cartons to their recycling programs, where they are a proven valuable material thanks to their high-quality, virgin long fiber. In addition to the fiber, cartons have thin layers of polyethylene (plastic). Shelf-stable cartons also have a thin layer of aluminum to enable the product to be stored safely without refrigeration. These materials can also be recovered and recycled. 

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