Perspective Blog /

Collaboration is the Key

By Ed Klein, President of the Carton Council

Late last year, my colleague, Carla Fantoni, and I were reminiscing about the early days when the Carton Council of North America was forming. The year was 2009 and the leading carton manufacturers joined forces, recognizing that each company was facing the same challenge: while food and beverage cartons contained valuable fiber that could be recycled, the infrastructure was not strong in the U.S. to efficiently and effectively recycle them. Sustainability was important to each carton manufacturer and they knew that cartons had a good sustainability profile because they are made primarily from responsibly sourced paperboard, a renewable, plant based material, and contain some of the highest quality fiber available in the recycling stream. But with robust carton recycling infrastructure lacking, there was a gap that seemed insurmountable for each company to tackle on their own.

A key word during the formation process was collaboration. Trust was another one. The companies were and still are competitors, so the Carton Council needed to ensure legal compliance and that there was transparency in all discussions and efforts. But collaboration and trust are also key for the overall strategy of the organization, not just how the internal founders work together. To fully integrate cartons into the U.S. recycling system, we needed to collaborate with all stakeholders involved throughout the recycling value chain.

Fourteen years later, this strategy has not changed. The Carton Council still works with local communities to include cartons in their recycling programs and material recovery facilities (MRFs) to accept and sort cartons for recycling. We share with MRF’s best practices and provide technical support when asked. Then once the MRFs are on board, we work with the municipalities and communities to educate their residents that food and beverage cartons are accepted and should be recycled. It’s only after that last piece has occurred that the Carton Council considers that community as having access to food and beverage carton recycling.

As we move further into 2023, the Carton Council is proud that more than 62% of US households have access and can recycle their food and beverage cartons through their local recycling programs. Collaboration is a key factor in that growing number. And thank you to the communities that added carton recycling last year, including Lexington, KY; Jefferson County, WI; and DeKalb County, GA and surrounding Atlanta cities, including Marietta.

Our collaboration takes many forms, for example, we worked with Sustain Dane and the Latino Academy of Workforce Development to develop Spanish and culturally relevant recycling education materials. We’re looking forward to further collaboration on the implementation of the Sustain Dane Recycle Better project, putting these tools to use to reach new potential recyclers.

Recognizing the importance of having accurate recycling information on community websites, we also realize that local governments may be stretched to the max, so we developed our 2023 Community Education Award contest, designed to provide expertise and financial support to help entities better educate their residents about local recycling programs.

Finally, we’re continuing to work closely with existing North American carton end markets
to help them increase their consumption of post-consumer food and beverage cartons, as well as identifying new carton recyclers to collaborate with and further grow the capacity for carton recycling in North America.

As the Carton Council looks to 2023 and beyond, collaboration is still key for effectively capturing cartons and improving recycling overall.