U.S. Carton Recycling Access (60% in 2017)Formed in 2009, the Carton Council is a group of carton manufacturers united to deliver long-term collaborative solutions to divert valuable cartons from landfills. Elopak, Evergreen Packaging, Sig, and Tetra Pak packaging companies are full members of the Carton Council, and Weyerhauser is an associate member.


Cartons are becoming an increasingly popular form of packaging for food and beverage products. They come in two types, shelf-stable and refrigerated. Both types are made from paper with thin layers of plastic and/or aluminum. Shelf-stable cartons are on average 74% paper, 22% plastic and 4% aluminum, while refrigerated cartons are about 80% paper and 20% plastic. Since cartons are lightweight, made primarily from a renewable resource, and are recyclable, they have a low carbon footprint when compared to other types of packaging. This makes them a sustainable packaging choice.

Although the materials that go into cartons are valuable commodities that can be made into new products, recycling cartons in the U.S. was challenging for consumers because of the limited availability of carton recycling infrastructure. Furthermore, Federal Trade Commission standards require a certain percentage of households have access to carton recycling before carton packaging can display recycling terms or symbols.

In 2009, when the Carton Council was formed, only 18% of U.S. households were able to recycle cartons in their communities, and only one paper mill in North America accepted cartons. The companies that make up the Carton Council wanted to improve the sustainability of cartons by making recycling of cartons easier for recycling facilities and consumers alike in the long term.


Since 2010, RRS has worked with the Carton Council to execute a four-pronged strategy to improving carton recycling in the U.S.

  • Developing market demand for the high quality materials in cartons;
  • Making recycling of cartons more sustainable through enabling processors to sort cartons into a separated grade;
  • Increasing access to carton recycling for consumers; and
  • Creating awareness of the recyclability of cartons.

Through RRS’ extensive network and knowledge of recycling programs and infrastructure across the U.S., coupled with technical, administrative and communications capabilities, RRS facilitates the day to day activities of these efforts on behalf of Carton Council. Providing strategic direction, RRS oversees and coordinates the activities of a network of affiliates. The primary activities are to work with recycling facilities to accept cartons and, when necessary, make investments into these facilities through capital equipment grants. Access to carton recycling progress is verified, tracked, and monitored by RRS.

RRS also supports consumer awareness outreach and campaigns for Carton Council. Once a sorting facility can accept cartons, communications with local governments, schools, haulers and residents are vital to the recycling of cartons. RRS not only regularly communicates with these different stakeholders, but has also developed materials and tools including informational brochures, advertisements and social media campaigns.

To support carton recycling, RRS also tracks policy developments in states to identify areas where the Carton Council can be supportive of new legislation or can lend its expertise to governments making decisions that impact carton recycling. RRS has assisted the Carton Council in communicating with governments by developing PowerPoint presentations and talking points.


One of the outcomes of the Carton Council’s access campaign is the ability to meet the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) standards for using the term “recyclable” on carton packaging. To use the qualified phrase “recyclable only where facilities exist” on cartons, the FTC requires that 30% of U.S. households have access to carton recycling. Carton Council achieved 30% access in 2010, and currently some carton packaging includes the qualified statement graphic.  To use the unqualified phrase “recyclable” on packaging, 60% of U.S. households (67 million households) would need access to carton recycling.  Using these phrases increases visibility of carton recycling to consumers, ultimately leading to greater recycling of cartons.

The Carton Council has seen steady progress in the percent of households with access to carton recycling. At the start of 2017, RRS had verified access to 60% of U.S. households.