Saying a material is recyclable does not make it so

Perspectives

By Jason Pelz

As we all know, the term recyclable is often thrown around to mean a variety of things. For example, when someone passes down clothing to someone else, it is often considered recycling. Certainly reuse is important and plays a valuable role in environmentalism. But in our industry – and likely for most of the visitors to this site  – recycling refers to the process of  collecting and making something new from materials that have been used before. Ultimately our goal at the Carton Council is preventing food and beverage cartons from ending up in the landfill. It’s not about simply saying something is recyclable. The material has to actually be easy for the average person to recycle.

That’s why we’ve been working so hard to make it possible for mainstream consumers to recycle cartons in the United States. Less than a decade ago, before our efforts began in 2009, only 18 percent of U.S. households could recycle their food and beverage cartons. It didn’t matter that the fiber contained in those cartons was a high-quality virgin fiber. If the infrastructure wasn’t in place for it to be easy for Americans to recycle them and end markets weren’t accepting them, it was hard to say they were really recyclable.

Fast forward seven years. We’ve worked with stakeholders across the different steps of the carton recycling supply chain: from communities who provide recycling programs to their local residents, to those who operate MRFs and those paper mills who want the fiber to make things like paper towels, tissues and writing and office paper.  That collaboration has paid off and now more than 58 percent of U.S. households can recycle the food and beverage cartons they consume – and more are coming on all of the time.

Saying a material is recyclable does not make it so. The infrastructure needs to be in place for that material to be recycled and it needs to be accessible and convenient for consumers. Hats off to all of those in the recycling supply chain who work hard every day to build and maintain the recycling system in our country, and to those who participate and help divert materials from our landfills! Thank you for your continued collaboration and eye on the prize of ensuring all communities have access to carton recycling.