By Drew Hatzenbihler
Solid Waste Administrator
One item that confuses many people when sorting their recyclables is cartons. Milk, juice, broth, wine and soup as well as other items all come in cartons and all of those cartons can be recycled (Except Goldfish cracker cartons). So what should you do with these cartons when you are done with them and what happens to the cartons later? The answer is simpler than you might think.
Carton recycling is easy! All you need to do is empty the container of its contents and place the container in the recycling bin as is. Caps can be left on, straws can be pushed inside the container, and the containers should NOT be flattened. For those of you with curbside recycling all you need to do is empty the carton and put it in your curbside bin for pickup. Those of you without curbside pickup, cartons can be placed in the remote recycling dumpsters throughout the county or brought to the recycling building at the Resource Recovery Center in Preston.
What confuses so many people about carton recycling is the fact that cartons are made of multiple materials including paper, plastic, and aluminum. Many items that are composed of multiple, recyclable materials can’t be recycled (I’m looking at you Pringles cans!). Cartons are one of the exceptions to this rule. Cartons are recyclable on their own and the multiple materials that compose them are able to be separated and recycled.
From your recycling bin, cartons are sorted manually, with optical sorters, or with robot sorting machines. Cartons are then baled together and sent to a recycling company that will turn them into building materials or to a paper mill for processing. At the paper mill the cartons are placed into a giant blender called a hydrapulper that breaks them up into small pieces, the plastic and aluminum is separated from the paper pulp and the remaining paper pulp is pressed into sheets that can be used to produce new materials. The plastic and aluminum can then be sent to a different facility to be further separated and recycled.
So what do your recycled cartons ultimately end up as? The sheets of paper pulp produced from the recycling process can be used to produce toilet paper, paper towels, office paper, tissues, and other paper products. The plastic and aluminum (as well as some of the paper) can end up as building materials like ceiling tiles or wallboards. Some less desirable material can also be used as fuel to create energy.
Carton recycling can have a huge effect on the environment as well. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration every ton of recycled paper fibers saves 7,000 gallons of water, up to 31 trees, 4,000 kWh of electricity, and up to 60 pounds of air pollutants.
Carton recycling is easy and can have a big impact. The raw materials produced from recycling cartons is useful for many materials and can save other raw materials and pollution in the process. If you would like to find out more about carton recycling you can visit recyclecartons.com. As always, if you have any questions about recycling please call the Fillmore County Resource Recovery Center at (507) 765-4704.