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Why Recycling Remains Essential to a Sustainable American Future

It’s true – China is no longer accepting many recycled materials from other countries, including the U.S.. China was a large importer for post-consumer recyclables for many years, including cardboard and newspaper and mixed paper, as well as some plastics. While this has changed how the U.S. manages its recycling at large, it’s not the end of recycling as we know it.

In fact, China was never a home for post-consumer food and beverage cartons (a.k.a. used cartons) when sorted separately from other recycled paper. That hasn’t changed. Buyers for these used food and beverage cartons are still accepting cartons across the U.S. as well as Mexico, Korea and India. In fact, they actually need cartons to supply their own customers with recycled materials that produce new products we use every day, including paper towels, tissue, writing paper, and even building materials!

When you place your refrigerated cartons (also known as “gable top” cartons that package products like orange juice and milk) and shelf-stable cartons (also known as “aseptic” cartons that package products like coconut water and broth) in the recycling bin, they are picked up and sorted out from other recyclables at a Materials Recovery Facility. The facility packages these cartons into giant bales and sells them to recyclers. There are two types of recyclers for bales of cartons: paper mills that extract the fibers to produce paper pulp for new paper products, and others that transform the entire carton into building materials. (Read about the paper mill process in greater detail, including the infamous carton sorting robot named Hot Dawg, in our blog here.)

For this process to continue to work, we need to keep recycling. When you recycle, you contribute to a circular economy, preserve natural resources and reduce litter. It’s more important now than ever before to recycle your cartons – and all other recyclable materials – correctly.

Access to carton recycling has grown from just 18% to 63% in the past ten years, reaching more than 72.5 million homes across 49 U.S. states. We must keep the progress and momentum – now is the time to redouble our efforts, not to give up when there’s a bump in the road.

Recycling only works when you place the correct items in your recycle bin. Start by confirming if carton recycling is available in your area using our zip code locator here. Then follow these three easy steps to recycle your cartons:

1. Empty your carton.

2. Toss it in the recycling bin, and

3. Take them to the curb.

(Pro tip: keep the cap on or push the straw back in, and no need to rinse!)

If carton recycling isn’t currently available in your area, you can still make a difference! Learn about alternative carton recycling options here, like mailing them to one of our facilities.

Recycling is not a way of the past, it is essential to a sustainable future. Food and beverage cartons are recyclable and are being recycled across the country – watch this video to get a behind-the-scenes look at how it happens.

Play your part: pledge to recycle your food and beverage cartons here and spread the word to your friends, family, schools and local government. The more carton champions, the better off our communities and planet will be!

Learn more by following the carton recycling journey on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.