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Mike Pomranz
Updated February 15, 2017

Some types of packaging are recycling superstars: Things like glass bottles and aluminum cans you can practically recycle anywhere. But other containers can be trickier. For instance, who truly understands that number system on the bottom of plastic bottles? For a while, paper-based cartons have fit into that latter group; however, the common milk and OJ option is about to get a small but significant visual upgrade – the right to use the official “please recycle” logo – thanks to broad efforts to make the containers more recyclable across the US.

In an interesting recycling tidbit, according to Food Navigator, packaging can only don the official “please recycle” phrase and logo once at least 60 percent of US households can recycle the product via their local recycling program – a threshold established by the Federal Trade Commission’s green guidelines. Cartons have previously been below that threshold and instead have had to opt for the language that customers should recycle “where facilities exist” – a designation that the Carton Council of North America described as a cause of “confusion.”

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But according to Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the council, cartons have finally breached the 60 percent marker, meaning customers can now feel more confident in the environmental-friendliness of their carton-contained goods. “Being able to be recyclable is a competitive thing for any package, whether it is a carton or aluminum can, and having that improved access and becoming mainstream is going to be a benefit for cartons as whole,” Pelz explained.

If this seems like a lot of thought given to cartons, you’re right. And it’s something Pelz seems very proud of. Though cartons may appear to be inherently recyclable, back in 2009, only about 18 percent of households could recycle food and beverage cartons locally. “It has really been a journey,” Pelz told Food Navigator. “We did a lot of outreach. We helped with grants to help with infrastructure. We also became a resource where we were able to provide people with the best practices whether related to sorting or bailing or starting programs at schools. We got in all facets of the recycling value chain and that is really how we drove it.”

So next time you’re debating whether it’s worth recycling a carton, know that not only will you be letting down Mother Nature, but you’ll also be disappointing Jason Pelz of the Carton Council of North America. If that doesn’t get you recycling, I don’t know what will.

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