Squeezing New Life from Beverage Cartons

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By Wes Muir, Director, Communications, Waste Management
Chew on this: nearly every breakfast table in the country holds a carton of orange juice or milk each morning. While we’re well aware that these beverages help us maintain a healthy and balanced diet, it’s easily overlooked that the milk and juice cartons we use can also help maintain a healthy and balanced environment. These cartons are largely made of paper that consumers can recycle, and giving these products a second life reduces the strain they put on the environment if they are merely put to waste.
Until very recently, milk and juice carton recycling received little attention, with only certain municipalities offering carton recycling services. Even information about recycling the more than 510,000,000 milk cartons used in the U.S. (a 2006 statistic from the National Recycling Coalition) was fairly unavailable. The EPA has general statistics about paper recycling, including the paperboard that makes up typical cartons. However, as one eco-conscious blogger noted in June 2008:

That got me thinking. How many milk cartons does my household go through over a short period of time, say a week? More importantly, why are milk cartons not recycled? They are made of paper aren’t they? Even more puzzling is the fact that on the side of some of the cartons I buy, it says “please recycle”. I want to, but my town will not take them. So I decided to do some research on how to recycle a milk carton, and why my town won’t do it. I thought the information would be readily available. I was wrong.

But with more education and opportunities, this can all change. Waste Management, Tropicana and the Carton Council are working to do just that – show the public that carton recycling is simple and can soon be widespread. This national recycling initiative, which launched in April 2009, now enables us to recycle juice and milk cartons at recycling processing facilities across the country.
Ultimately, this initiative aims to increase beverage carton recycling to every community. In areas currently accepting cartons, residents can easily recycle juice, milk, soy, broth and other beverage cartons by placing them in their recycling bins as part of local curbside recycling programs. For consumers who must separate recyclables, cartons can be placed with bottles and cans.
The Carton Council has created a Web site for consumers to see if these services already exist in their neighborhoods. Consumers that do not have access to curbside collection of containers are able to go to www.thinkgreenfromhome.com and purchase an in-home recycling container.
After the cartons are collected, they undergo a process called “hydropulping.” This “blends” the cartons so that the paper and non-paper elements, such as the protective layer of polyethylene to keep the paper from getting wet, separate. The recovered paper fibers can be recycled into items such as tissue and paper towels. Click here to see a video and learn more about this process.
While recycling has remained top of mind as we search for ways to preserve the environment, bringing milk and juice cartons into the mix is helping to refresh consumers’ idea of the vast amount of materials that really can be repurposed and given a second life.

Wes Muir is Director of Corporate Communications for Waste Management, responsible for external communications and public affairs across North America including the development and management of strategies and programs in support of the company’s renewable energy, recycling and corporate development business groups, corporate branding/reputation and environmental sustainability initiative and media and social media.Prior to Waste Management, Wes was Director of Communications for the International Council on Mining and Metals responsible for the development and management of the global communications strategy in support of the industry’s sustainable development initiatives.Prior to this position, he was Director of Communications and Public Affairs for BHP Billiton Base Metals and its predecessor Rio Algom, an international mining company where he developed and managed the corporate communications and public affairs activities for the company’s domestic and international operations and projects.Wes has also held senior positions with public affairs and communications agencies in Canada and the United States providing communications counsel and support to a wide range of industry sectors including natural resources, environment, energy, financial, health and consumer products and services.

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