Consuming a refreshing beverage requires very little mental exertion. Simply scan the countless brands and flavors available at your local store, purchase a variety that sounds appealing, open it up and finally glug-glug-glug. Ah, how sweet it is… Are you kidding? Things aren’t nearly as cut and dry anymore. These days, in addition to having access to seemingly countless types of thirst quenchers, we also have the option of selecting organically produced versions and some that are even packaged in BPA-free containers (which is ideal for those eager to limit their exposure to hormone-altering chemicals). Decisions, decisions. Let’s say you favor milk and juice. If you typically purchase both items in half-gallon quantities, you will most likely end up placing gable-top, polyethylene-coated paper cartons in your shopping cart. Upon polishing them off, you’ll then rinse out the containers (they’re paper, after all!) before slam-dunking them in your household recycling collection bin. Um, apparently that’s not what happens at all. According to the EPA’s municipal waste stream statistics for 2008, at least in the case of milk cartons, 490,000 tons were produced, but a mere 0.05% of them (the equivalent of just 5,000 tons) were actually recycled. That seems rather odd, doesn’t it? Given the fact that they are made with totally recyclable paper, and many major milk brands even emblazon the words “Please Recycle!” on the side of the container, clearly there must be a missing link. Bingo.


The biggest obstacles?
  • Very few municipalities have established processing centers devoted solely to recycling poly-coated paper beverage containers.
  • Minimal recycling volume results in negligible profit for municipalities, which makes the whole process rather unappealing.
  • Consumers rarely take the time to wash containers out, causing residual milk to go bad. The bacterial and mold residues then compromise the integrity of the containers, prompting them to partially decompose.
There is an intriguing option, however. On an annual basis, The ReWall Company shreds approximately 2 million tons of post-consumer polyethylene-coated paper cartons in order to transform the reclaimed material into eco-friendly, water-resistant building panels that can be used for everything from floor, countertop and tile substrate to wall boards, roof sheathing and decorative panels. Upon rough-cutting reclaimed cartons obtained from municipal, commercial and industrial waste supplies, the material is heated and compressed into a solid sheet without the use of water, chemicals or glue. Thanks to the inclusion of the exterior polyethylene coating, which composes 20% of the typical beverage carton, the final recycled paperboard sheet produced by the Des Moines, IA-based company is bestowed with moisture-resistant qualities — a huge plus for construction applications. Visual evidence of the final product’s humble origins can be seen in Rewall’s 1/2” x 4’ x 8’ NakedBoard, which is flecked with random bits of inked text obtained directly from countless beverage containers. For those who prefer a more uniform exterior, the company’s 1/2” x 4’ x 3’ EssentialBoard, composed of the very same recycled material, is simply just ensconced within a solid sheet of paper. As for the eco-friendly properties of ReWall’s unique product, the acoustic and mechanically sound VOC-free material offers an ideal alternative to conventional oscillated strand board or plyboard (both of which are often made with virgin wood). Furthermore, compared to the mainstream gypsum/drywall manufacturing process, NakedBoard and EssentialBoard each utilize 86% less energy overall. At the beginning of 2012, ReWall was recycling approximately 100 tons of polyethylene-coated paper cartons every month, but currently, that figure is closer to 300 tons. Seems like their beverage-container-turned-recycled-building product is really catching on! Let’s all raise a tall glass of milk to ReWall’s innovative efforts, which are poised to make a significant dent in what was until recently one of the most persistently perplexing post-consumer waste materials around.