Carton recycling progress: 49 states, 62% of households now have access
- In the U.S., 49 states and 61.7% of households have access to carton recycling, according to a recent update from the Carton Council. Hawaii is the one state without access to carton recycling.
- While some common carton sorting techniques were discussed during the update, there is no single method that is recommended above others. The best bet is for each MRF to determine what method is optimal, according to Jason Pelz, Vice President of Sustainability and Recycling Programs at Tetra Pak, during a Carton Council and National Recycling Coalition webinar. Pelz also highlighted artificial intelligence (AI) sorting machines that have demonstrated success for Alpine Waste & Recycling and Dem-Con Companies.
- Chinese import restrictions won't significantly impact the buying and selling of recycled cartons, Pelz said. Cartons from the United States don't typically go to China as is, but rather to buyers in North America. This is in part because of the relative high-value of properly recycled cartons, which can yield virgin fiber, polyethylene and, in the case of shelf-stable cartons, aluminum.
Reaching 60% accessibility was seen as a critical mission for the Carton Council, as now all food and beverage containers nationwide can carry a standard recycling logo on them to encourage consumer recycling. Prior to hitting 60% access, cartons for food or beverages had to carry logos that stated cartons were not recyclable everywhere, per Federal Trade Commission guidelines. The Carton Council is optimistic with the new, universal recycling logo, which can help create a nationwide call-to-action to energize more consumers to recycle cartons.
Reaching the access threshold also underscores the influence of industry groups. In part because of efforts from the council, access to recycling nearly tripled in the U.S. — in fewer than 10 years.
Pelz said the carton recycling situation in 2008 was not ideal, with fewer than half of the states having access to carton recycling.
"I wouldn't call it bleak, but it isn't where we wanted it to be," Pelz said.
For recyclers looking to move into the cartons market, The Carton Council has a number of resources online — and sometimes awards grants for capital investments for carton recycling. The council also helps to match brokers with end markets for recycled cartons, provides consumer-facing educational campaigns and provides technical assistance.
"We think that sharing the best practices generally leads people to the best solution," Pelz said.
- Carton Council Update on Food and Beverage Carton Recycling
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