Perspective Blog /

Recycling is Essential to a Sustainable Economy

Immediately following the threat of shutdowns and the beginning of quarantine as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, American consumers experienced shortages of paper products, such as toilet paper and paper towels. Despite the widespread shortages and attention they received, our new research reveals that most consumers fail to make the connection between their recycling of paper items at home and its value in providing manufacturers with the recycled paper needed to make new paper products.

In May 2020, we conducted a national survey to better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting Americans’ recycling habits and their understanding of the impact of recycling. Fortunately, we learned that Americans are keeping up their recycling habits. Survey findings showed that almost one-third of consumers (29%) say they have been recycling more during the pandemic and 56% have been recycling the same.

Unfortunately, the survey also revealed that consumers don’t understand how their recycling at home impacts production of everyday items like toilet paper, tissues and paper towels which are in particular high demand during the pandemic. When asked how much impact recycling at home has on helping with paper shortages, 33% of consumers reported they thought recycling might have some impact on helping with the shortages, but they were not sure how much it really helped. While 18% felt recycling had no impact at all on alleviating shortages, and 13% were unsure and had not thought about the connection.

“It’s great to see that people are either continuing to recycle at the same rate or recycling even more as they spend an increased time at home and therefore generate more waste at home during the pandemic,” shared Carla Fantoni, Vice President of Communications for the Carton Council of North America and for Tetra Pak Americas. “At the same time, the fact that consumers still aren’t seeing the connection between recycling and creating new products means that as an industry, there’s an opportunity to better educate consumers about the important role recycling plays in our supply chain and in building a circular economy.”

Food and beverage cartons are primarily made of paper. Once recycled, the fibers in cartons are used to make new paper products at companies like Great Lakes Tissue Company in Michigan and Sustana Fiber in Wisconsin. As we previously shared on our blog, consumers play a fundamental role in making this transformative cycle — from carton, to paper pulp, to new product — possible.

“Food and beverage cartons contain high quality fiber which we desire to help us keep up with demand for products like toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels,” said Michele Bartolini, Senior Marketing Director for Sustana. “As the nation opens up, we will continue to need paper feedstock to produce new paper materials. If cartons aren’t recycled and end up in a landfill, we are losing the opportunity to utilize that material.”

The important takeaway here is that recycling your food and beverage cartons does make a difference! Every carton you recycle helps to meet the nationwide demand for toilet paper, tissues and paper towels. Please keep up the good work and #RecycleYourCartons!

Nationwide, we recognize that some recycling programs have had to temporarily stop or slow service due to the pandemic. We encourage you to check with your local municipality to confirm the overall status of your community’s recycling program and if cartons are accepted.

A version of this story was originally posted on, the Carton Council’s website dedicated to supporting the recycling industry.