Most people are familiar with the concept of recycling paper and plastic materials. However, how are consumers expected to handle a hybrid product such as a carton? According to The Carton Council, nearly 5 billion cartons end up in landfills annually. These staggering numbers are a reflection of the milk carton recycling mystery. Hopefully the following tips can shed some light on the subject. First, there are two different types of cartons: the refrigerated carton and the shelf-stable carton. Per, shelf-stable cartons contain on average 74% paper, 22% polyethylene and 4% aluminum, while refrigerated cartons contain about 80% paper and 20% polyethylene. Some of the confusion stems from the fact that some cartons do not actually have a recycling symbol on the container. Because many U.S. households are not able to recycle cartons at the curb, most cartons do not feature the recycling symbol at this time. The Carton Council is pushing to have all cartons labeled by 2015.

recycle cartons

Cartons consist of mainly paper and are actually considered a valuable resource as a recyclable commodity. Plus, empty cartons are extremely lightweight. According to, on average, a product sold in a shelf-stable carton is 94% product and only 6% packaging. This means fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced since used cartons can be shipped using fewer trucks. Another hang up that often throws consumers off is the supposed exterior wax coating. The truth is, cartons no longer contain any wax and have not for many years now. Cartons are manufactured to keep the product fresh by blocking external light and odors that may cause the product to spoil. Despite the ongoing myths, there are actually many recycling programs that want used cartons. One can even check if their local recycling program will accept carton materials. However, if there is not a local carton recycling center near you, the Carton Council encourages consumers to check out its mail-in program and view the step-by-step instructions. Although curbside pickup is still not everywhere, this trend is quickly gaining popularity. Plus, it’s easy. All you need to do is rinse a used carton before placing it in the recycling bin or cart. As well, flattening cartons can help save valuable cart or bin space. Of course, when in doubt, keep it out. As a rule of thumb, rather than risk contaminating local recycling streams, keep out materials that you are not sure about. The Carton Council is very committed to increasing overall access for consumers to recycle their used cartons. believes recycled cartons become the raw material for a variety of new paper products and building materials. Old carton materials are very desirable recyclable resources, so if you are buying packaged goods, think about buying items in cartons versus other packaging materials. Because cartons are made of renewable resources, consumers can smartly choose the “best package choices to meet their food and environmental need.”