Why carton recycling is a major opportunity to improve your brand’s sustainability efforts

Many Americans toss away packaging without much thought, resulting in the United States – at 4.4 percent of the world’s population – producing 20 percent of the world’s trash.

2 min read Jay Hunsberger

Many Americans toss away packaging without much thought, resulting in the United States – at 4.4 percent of the world’s population – producing 20 percent of the world’s trash, the majority of this being packaging and printed paper (PPP).

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.

The circular economy opportunity

Carton recycling presents a major opportunity for food brands and manufacturers who want to improve their sustainability efforts – specifically, by embracing the circular economy.

In short, the circular economy describes a process in which new products are made from renewable, reused and/or recycled materials. Along with being better for the environment, the circular economy can drive down manufacturing costs and allow every business in the supply chain to improve their sustainability efforts. 

Make no mistake: consumers do care whether businesses are taking initiative to minimize their impact on the environment. It’s why major brands like McDonald’s and Starbucks have taken actionable steps to make their packaging more sustainable, including through “closed-loop” packaging that is part of the circular economy.

So, where does it all start?

Building a sustainable supply chain

Because consumer education is a pivotal component in building strong recycling infrastructure, meaningful community partnerships are critical. This is why Sustana Fiber collaborates closely with the Carton Council to increase awareness about carton recycling

Many people still don’t realize that everyday food and beverage cartons – like those used for milk, water, juices, broth and more – can be recycled, and that nearly 63 percent of households across the United States have access to carton recycling. The Carton Council brings light to this topic in the U.S. and Canada, so fewer cartons get thrown into the wrong bin. 

It’s working. Back in 2009, when the Carton Council formed, only 18 percent of households could recycle their cartons through local programs. Fast forward to 2018, and that has climbed to 62 percent, which translates to 73.2 million households in 13,427 communities.

Supporting brands to close the loop

We also want to support the circular economy on a larger scale. Specifically at Sustana Fiber, we want to help carton manufacturers and brands that use cartons heavily to close the loop in their manufacturing by taking advantage of post-consumer recycled materials.

Each day, Sustana Fiber takes in roughly 20 tons of polycoated paper material – including paper cups and food cartons – and recycles them into clean fiber that’s used in new products. As we continue working with Carton Council, that’s projected to grow to 100 tons per day.

By using the resulting EnviroLife™ fiber, which is compliant with FDA standards for food grade packaging, carton manufacturers and food brands can contribute to the circular economy and noticeably shrink their environmental footprint. EnviroLife™ not only reduces packaging waste, but also requires less energy and water to produce. According to Sustana Fiber’s Life Cycle Assessment, EnviroLife™ requires nine times less water to produce and its impact on climate change is 26 percent lower than the average virgin fiber used in packaging production.

When businesses buy into the circular economy, they’ll see value for their own brands. More importantly, they’ll be doing their part to ensure manufacturing can remain sustainable for generations to come.