Brands Play an Important Role in Encouraging Recycling

Perspectives

By: Larine Urbina, Vice President, Communications for the Carton Council and Vice President, Communications for Tetra Pak U.S. and Canada

As recycling markets and supply chains continue to face pressure like never before, it’s crucial to us at the Carton Council to continue collaborating to grow and improve carton recycling access and rates. We also recognize that when it comes to recycling, a rising tide lifts all boats and good recycling behaviors are critical too. When residents recycle more—and better—everyone in the recycling value chain benefits.

As companies and brands face increased pressure to make their packaging more sustainable, recyclability is one key piece to that puzzle. Unfortunately, Americans overwhelmingly don’t recycle as much as they could. The good news is there are some relatively easy ways to help promote positive recycling behavior. When it comes to encouraging consumers to recycle and communicating recyclability, nothing is more powerful than the package itself. In fact, 74% of consumers report they would assume a package is not recyclable if there is no recycling symbol or language on it. At the same time, 55% say they look to the product packaging first to determine recyclability.

We also know that awareness is not all it takes to motivate people to recycle. Our recent behavior science research revealed that even after consumers commit to recycling, there are still several steps before they become diligent recyclers. The great news is placing the recycling logo on pack is an easy way to help ensure the package doesn’t end up in a landfill and has a chance at a second life.

When it comes to food and beverage cartons, we know there is still some confusion about their recyclability, which is understandable considering that access to carton recycling has grown an impressive 240% in just the last decade. And, as with most materials, access varies depending on where you live and which materials recovery facility (MRF) gets your recyclables.

The reality is food and beverage cartons are made of some of the highest quality fiber in the recycling stream, making them a valuable addition to the recycling bin. Even prior to the pandemic, the supply of paper in the recycling stream was decreasing, but with the influx of people working from home, fiber in the stream has shrunk even more as office printers have gone dormant. This makes carton recycling even more important as cartons can provide much-needed fiber to be used as feedstock for new paper products like paper towels, toilet paper, tissues and office and writing paper. They are also used in a growing manufacturing industry to make environmentally friendly building and construction materials, which are in high demand due to supply chain constraints.

So how can we work together to get more of this valuable material into the recycling stream? To brand owners who package products in cartons, we hope you’ll help us spread the word that cartons can, and should, be recycled. To support these efforts, the Carton Council has a variety of on-pack logo options available, including Spanish options, as well as other communications materials to help companies and brands promote the recycling of their carton products. Please contact us at carton.recycling@hkstrategies.com if you would like to learn more.

The Carton Council of North America was created to improve food and beverage carton recycling through a model structured around collaboration. This includes working with MRFs to efficiently sort cartons; assisting end markets with sourcing cartons; supporting governments in adding cartons and educating their residents; providing schools with tools to build carton recycling programs; and partnering with companies and brands who package their products in cartons.