How to Recycle - Carton Council — Consumer

Path 1: Consumer products

The paper mill: Cartons are packed together and sent to a paper mill.

The giant blender: At the paper mill, cartons are added to a large machine called a Hydrapulper – essentially a giant blender – that uses water to break the cartons down into two component parts: paper and plastic/aluminum. The paper is separated and the pulp is used to make paper products such as paper towels, tissue, office papers, etc. The plastic and aluminum together can be sent on for further recycling to produce ceiling tiles, wallboard, or even energy to fuel the paper mill.

All of these cartons are recyclable.

How to recycle: put your food and beverage cartons in the bin. It might seem like a small action, but every recycled item helps to preserve our planet's natural resources. When recycled, cartons can go on to be transformed into new paper products as well as eco-friendly building materials rather than end up in a landfill. Milk, soup, juice, wine and broth are just some of the products packaged in cartons that you’ll find in your nearby grocery store — and they're all recyclable!


Step 1: Empty your carton of any remaining food or liquid.

Step 2: Toss your carton – without flattening it – into the recycling bin along with all your other recyclables such as cans, plastic and bottles.

PRO TIP: Keep the cap on. If you have a straw, push it back into the carton before recycling.

Step 3: Take 'em to the curb. On your designated recycling pick-up day, take your recycling to the curb to be collected.

Click here to learn your options if carton recycling is not yet available in your area.

What happens to cartons after they leave your recycling bin?

Keep on trucking: On pick-up day, recycling trucks throughout the country collect your recyclables and take them to the sorting center.

The big sort: At the recycling sorting center, cartons are separated from other recyclable materials manually, using infrared technology, and/or by robots using artificial intelligence.

Path 2: Building materials

Recycling at its best: Instead of the paper mill, cartons can also head over to a recycling company that turns cartons into building materials. Fact: About 400 cartons can go into making a 4'x8' construction board.

Shred and press: Cartons are shredded into a million pieces, then heat is applied and they are pressed back together into large sheets. Just like a panini press for shredded cartons!

A SECOND LIFE: This is where the magic happens. In the final step, companies use the paper pulp and pressed board made from your recycled cartons to create new everyday paper products like toilet paper, paper towels or eco-friendly building materials like roof cover boards.

Why recycle?

With every carton you recycle, you're contributing to a more sustainable future.

Give Cartons New Life

Paper, aluminum and plastic recovered from recycled cartons save us from depleting our environment's precious resources and can become new products like toilet paper, tissue paper, and even building materials. A ton of paper made from recycled fibers instead of virgin fibers conserves 7,000 gallons of water, 17-31 trees, 4,000 kWh of electricity, and 60 pounds of air pollutants.1 Recycling your cartons provides manufacturers the raw materials they need to create eco-friendly products.

1 EIA Report

Why recycle?

With every carton you recycle, you're contributing to a more sustainable future.


Each day, the average American generates more than four pounds of trash. That adds up to more than 200 million tons of garbage each year – enough to fill the Cardinals' Busch Stadium from top to bottom, twice a day! Despite the fact that about 75% of our waste stream is recyclable1, most of this trash ends up in one of more than 3,000 landfills spread across the U.S., which then releases harmful methane gas that speeds up global warming. Every time you recycle your cartons, you're taking one important step to reduce landfill waste in our world.

1 11 Facts About Recycling

Why recycle?

With every carton you recycle, you're contributing to a more sustainable future.

Save resources

A little recycling can go a long way. When Americans recycle just 30% of all municipal waste, we save the energy equivalent of 11.9 billion gallons of gasoline. That's the greenhouse gas equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road.4 Surely we can do even better than 30%, can't we?

4 EPA Energy Savings


What is a carton?

  • Cartons are a type of packaging for food and beverage products you can purchase at the store. They are easy to recognize and are available in two types—shelf-stable and refrigerated.
  • Shelf-stable cartons for products such as juice, milk, soy milk, soup, broth and wine are found on the shelves in grocery stores.
  • Refrigerated cartons for products such as milk, juice, cream, and egg substitutes are found in the refrigerated section in grocery stores.

What are cartons made from?

  • Cartons are primarily made from paper, with a thin layer of polyethylene (plastic). Shelf-stable cartons contain a layer of aluminum as well, whereas refrigerated cartons do not.

Why cartons?

  • With an average of 94% product and only 6% packaging, cartons use the least amount of materials possible, helping to preserve our Earth’s precious resources. You can find cartons on the shelf, like broths, soups and soy milk, or in the refrigerated section, like milk, creamer and juice.

Where can I recycle cartons?

  • The majority of households in the U.S. now have access to carton recycling through curbside or drop-off programs. To learn whether you are able to recycle cartons in your community, enter your zip code here.

Carton recycling isn’t available in my area yet. Can I mail in my cartons to make sure they’re recycled?

Yes. Our network can recycle them on your behalf. Mailing in your cartons is easy.

Step 1: Make sure cartons are empty and dry. Keep the cap on and push any straws into the cartons. You can crush your cartons to save space. Step 2: Address your cartons to one of the three locations listed below. Choose whichever location is closest to you. Include proper postage and write "cartons" on the front of your package.  If a facility is listed below, Carton Council has confirmed it is currently accepting cartons via mail. Please note that locations are not able to confirm receipt of packages.  When shipments arrive at a facility, the cartons are emptied from the box and deposited with cartons already at the facility and the shipping box is recycled.

  • Firstar Fiber, 10330 "I" Street; Suite 100, Omaha, NE 68127
  • Tidewater Fiber, 1958 Diamond Hill Road, Chesapeake, VA 23324
  • Emmet County Recycling, 7363 Pleasantview Road, Harbor Springs, MI 49740
Click here to learn about more options if carton recycling is not yet available in your area.

How do I recycle cartons?

  • Simply empty your cartons and place them in your recycling bin. If your recycling program collects materials as "single-stream," you may place your cartons in your bin with all the other recyclables. If your recycling program collects materials as "dual-stream" (paper items separate from plastic, metal and glass), please place cartons with your plastic, metal, and glass containers.

Wait, you just said cartons are mostly made of paper. Don’t I want to put them with other paper recyclables?

  • Good question. The answer is no. Once cartons arrive at your local sorting center, they will be sorted separately from the rest of the materials. In the end, as long as all cartons are sorted together, the material will then be recycled.

Do I need to remove plastic caps when recycling my cartons?

  • No. Please place cartons with the cap intact into the bin.

Do I need to rinse my cartons?

  • No, you do not need to rinse your cartons. As long as the carton is empty, it is okay to place in your recycling.

Should I flatten my cartons?

  • No, you should not flatten your carton. Optic sorters used at Material Recovery Facilities have a higher chance of recognizing cartons for proper sorting while containers still retain their 3D shape. This means cartons can be sorted more efficiently in their 3D form and should not be crushed, folded or flattened in any way before entering the recycle bin.

Do recycled cartons become new products?

  • Yes! Recycled cartons are turned into products you use every day, like tissue paper or office paper, or even building materials, like ceiling and roofing tiles. And these “new” products are better for the environment, too. Producing recycled paper creates 74% less air pollution and 35% less water pollution than producing paper from virgin fibers.

Is there a waxy coating on cartons? Isn’t that why they are difficult to recycle?

  • What you may see as wax on a carton is actually a thin layer of polyethylene or plastic, which is recyclable too. Feel free to recycle cartons with this shiny coating.

What happens to the aluminum and plastic left over after the carton recycling process in a paper mill?

  • The aluminum/plastic combination left over can be used in different ways. Some mills are using the material for generating energy; others sell it to plastic manufacturers that use them for lumber board-like materials. In some cases, the material ends up in a landfill. Better solutions for the leftover materials are under consideration. In the case of building materials, the whole carton is used and the carton's polyethylene plastic becomes the binding system that holds the boards together in Continuus' products.

How many cartons does it take to create building materials?

  • About 400 cartons can make up each 4’x8’ Continuus Material board. Each truckload of Continuus’ products can remove almost 300,000 cartons from the landfill.

Do the building materials really work?

  • Yes! Cartons are great for building materials because they are inherently moisture and mold resistant – just like you want your ceiling and roofing tiles to be.

Who is the Carton Council?

  • We are a group of carton packaging manufacturers united to grow carton recycling in the US. The members of the Carton Council are Elopak, Evergreen, SIG Combibloc, and Tetra Pak.