Cartons are recyclable!
Contrary to what some may think, cartons are not wax coated. What you may see as wax on a carton is actually a thin layer of polyethylene (plastic). Made mainly from paper, a renewable resource from responsibly managed forests, they can be recycled into new products. The long, bleached, virgin fibres from which cartons are made are a highly sought-after resource in the manufacturing of new paper-based products.
How are we doing?
As of January 2019, the national blended carton recycling-recovery rate was 60%*. This is up from 26% in 2008.
*Some jurisdictions report a recycling rate while others report a recovery rate. For this reason, we cannot report a uniform national recycling or recovery rate.
Access to beverage carton recycling (the percentage of the Canadian population who can recycle cartons in their community) is approximately 97%.
Carton recycling access and carton recycling rates vary across the country. Click on a particular province or territory to learn more.
Recycling means reducing waste – breaking down an old product and using it for something new. By recycling, you are conserving energy and natural resources as well as protecting the environment. The demand for recycled paper from cartons decreases the strain on natural resources and provides a market for recycled goods.
Recycling a product or packaging at the end of its useful life also reduces the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) compared to landfilling. For example, the 8,855 tonnes of cartons that were recycled in Ontario in 2013 resulted in just under 29,000 tonnes of C02e avoided, compared to the disposal scenario. This is equivalent to removing 6,444 passenger cars from the roadway each year.
How are cartons collected for recycling?
Cartons are recovered under different systems across the country, including via residential collection programs – some of which are entirely or partially funded through stewardship fees, others funded entirely via the municipal tax base – and through beverage container deposit systems. In some provinces, both types of systems co-exist. The content of the carton (juice, milk, or non-beverage) sometimes determines the system by which they are collected. Refer to the Get Involved Section for information on how cartons are collected where you live.
Carton Council of Canada is committed to increasing carton recycling, but we can’t do it alone. We need the collaboration and support of all stakeholders in the carton recycling value chain – sorters, municipalities, government agencies and consumers – to avoid that cartons end up in disposal sites. The good news is that there is something in it for everyone when it comes to carton recycling. As a consumer, you can help keep cartons out of disposal sites by participating in the recycling program available to you. If you live in a community where cartons are collected along with other recyclables as part of residential recycling program, make sure to follow the sorting and set-out instructions provided your municipality. If you live in a province or territory where cartons are collected through a deposit return system, make sure to bring back your cartons to the depot located closest to you. Click on the map above to learn more.
Fiber in the cartons is separated from the non-fibre materials (polyethylene and aluminum) and converted into pulp in a hydropulper (similar to a giant kitchen blender), which in turn is made into useful products. Non-fiber materials can be marketed elsewhere.
Cartons can also be recycled in their entirety using other technologies, such as extrusion and thermo-compression. This is a one-step process in which the entire carton is used to make products such as ceiling tiles and wall board.
What products are cartons recycled into?
|Process||Product||North-American Recyclers||Overseas Recyclers|
|Re-pulping at a paper mill||Tissue and toweling products||Great Lakes Tissue (Michigan)||
|Re-pulping at a pulp mill||Wet Lap Pulp The pulp is typically sent on to mills that produce tissue and toweling products and printing and writing paper.||
||Fiber Pattana (Thailand)|
|Whole carton recycling using thermo compression technology||Building materials (wall board, ceiling tiles)||ReWall (Iowa)||Kuruc (Slovakia)|
In 2014, half (50%) of the polyethylene/Aluminum (polyAl) by-products from carton recycling at mills were recycled globally. Commonly, the recycled polyAl component is converted into a commodity in the form of pellets (the pellets are typically used in the manufacturing of products such as pallets and flower pots), or as ceiling and roofing tiles.
The Carton Council is exploring solutions in both the US and Canada to ensure that the high value of the polyAl material is captured.
 References: tonnes of cartons recycled obtained from Stewardship Ontario’s 2015 Blue Box Fee Calculation model (based on 2013 data), available at http://www.stewardshipontario.ca/download/bb-fee-calculation-model-2015/; the tonnes of C02e avoided were calculated based on Environment Canada’s Waste GHG Calculator. The “other paper” category was used as a substitute for cartons.