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Can You Recycle Food and Beverage Cartons? Here’s What You Need to Know!

This post was sponsored by the Carton Council and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

Can You Recycle Food and Beverage Cartons? Here’s What You Need to Know!

Before we speak about recycling, we need to discuss reducing food waste.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, The United States is the global leader in food waste, with Americans discarding nearly 40 million tons of food every year.

Most of this food is sent to landfills and is the single largest component taking up space inside US landfills.

Environmental problems associated with food waste. Currently, food wastes the water and energy it took to produce it. About 70 percent of our water and 50 percent of our land is devoted to agriculture in the United States. About 33 million cars’ worth of greenhouse gases is produced to grow food that never gets eaten, which contributes to global warming.

If you're starting to feel guilty thinking about all of the food you toss out every week don’t worry, I have some easy tips to change your habits to waste less food, save more money, recycle more and help the planet.

  • Be practical when shopping for food. Don’t buy more than you're likely to cook.

  • Be intentional and shop more often and buy less.

  • Make a shopping list and stick to it.

  • Don't be afraid to buy less attractive (but still fresh!) produce. Just because it’s not as “pretty” as you expected doesn’t mean the nutrition value is lost.

  • See expiration dates marked as "use by" or "sell by" as a general guide. Those are not regulated terms. The main reason for illness in terms of food is pathogens like Salmonella and E. Coli and they typically start at the farm or processing facilities. You may be throwing out food that is still okay to eat.

  • Try a food audit. Pay attention to how many bags of trash you produce in a week and the money you spent.

  • When possible make your own foods like chicken or vegetable broth or even your own plant-based milk like oat or cashew milk. If that’s not an option for you, prioritize buying those items in recyclable packaging like cartons.

  • Buy foods and beverages that come in recyclable packaging like cartons. Once recycled, cartons go on to have a second life as new items rather than sit in a landfill.

Why Recycle Cartons

Reducing waste is always first priority, but when reducing or reusable packaging isn’t an option, I believe cartons are a practical, sustainable packaging solution. They’re primarily made with an average of 94% product and only 6% packaging.

This means cartons use the least amount of materials possible. They are lightweight and use fewer resources and have a lower carbon footprint. This means it helps preserve our Earth’s precious resources. You can find cartons on the shelf, like broths, soups, and plant milk, or in the refrigerated section, like milk, creamer, and juice.

Cartons are primarily made from paper, with a thin layer of polyethylene (plastic). Shelf-stable cartons contain a layer of aluminum as well.

Once your recycled cartons are collected, paper mill facilities use a machine called a hydrapulper, which is like a big washing machine. It agitates the material to separate into paper, plastic, and aluminum. These particles can be pulled out and recycled separately. It’s so neat.

If you want to see the whole process in action, check it out here.

While they are designed to be used once, their life cycle continues once they are recycled. Once collected, cartons provide manufacturers with valuable materials to make new paper products like toilet paper, while other companies use the entire carton to make eco-friendly building material.

In a way, cartons play an important role in minimizing waste and reintroducing valuable materials back into the US supply chain to build a circular economy.

Here are the steps to recycle your cartons:


No rinsing required, just pour the last few drops of liquid into the sink and you’re good to go.


Don’t flatten your carton and keep the cap on. If it has a straw, just push the straw back into the carton.⁣


If your city has curbside pickup for recyclables use it. If not, start saving them up to take to your local recycling facility. Not an option? No worries, you can now mail in your cartons to 1 of 3 locations in the U.S. check for those locations HERE.

The trick is learning what the recycling rules are in one's own community. Recycling guidelines can vary from place to place. I recommend looking at your city or public works websites for recycling guidance.

To learn if your community recycles cartons, use the Carton Council’s zip code locator.

My area has two locations and drop-off points for carton recycling.

Sign the carton council petition, they are only 400 signatures away from their goal of 10,000.

I hope you learned something new and feel empowered to reduce your household waste. We only have one earth, there is no plan b. Do you have any questions? Let's chat below.

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