How to Recycle Cartons

An Overview on Recycling Milk Cartons

If you’re like most families, you likely go through your fair share of milk cartons in any given week. We love to drink milk, and our trash bins are proof of that! But could your cartoned-beverage habit be causing a milky waste problem for the planet?

What’s in a milk carton

Paper milk cartons are constructed of a lightweight but strong paperboard called polycoat which is then covered in an inner and outer layer of polyethylene plastic film. Though paper milk cartons are classed as paperboard and therefore recycled alongside other paper products, because of this coating, milk cartons are more difficult to recycle than things like cardboard and newspapers.

How milk carton recycling works

Milk cartons are recycled through a process called hydrapulping which essentially involves adding the milk carton fiber to water and then heating it while blending it to produce a pulp. The polyethylene plastic is screened off to be made into new plastics, and the remaining material is then used to make new products, such as the lining in some corrugated cardboard, tissue products, and even white paper. And recycling cartons of milk is great for the planet:

  • In American, the average person will drink down more than 1,600 gallons of milk over their lifetime.[1] As a nation, that results in 740,674,244 tons of greenhouse gases emitted to produce, ship, and landfill milk cartons which is enough to power NYC for 16 years![2]
  • By recycling milk cartons, the energy requirements for new products can be reduced by 25% and the need for petrochemicals and wood fiber are also diminished.[3]

Carton Recycling Tips:

  • Reuse:If you’re a gardener, than you might consider turning your old milk cartons into seed planters. Simply cut the milk carton in two to make two different planters (flatten the top out of the upper portion) and transfer seedlings and soil. These will retain water well and can be planted directly in the ground where they’ll biodegrade throughout the growing season. You can also use old milk cartons to make bird feeders, children’s toys, and other fun crafts.
  • Curbside recycling: If your local community has a curbside recycling program, it is somewhat likely that they will accept milk cartons. Just be sure to check before sending them with your blue bin.
  • Drop off recycling: There are more milk carton drop-off programs today than ever before, and our recycling database has a lot of resources to help you find one in your area.
  • Compost: When recycling facilities don’t exist in your area, you may be able to compost your milk cartons. Just tear them up and add them to your outdoor compost pile (they’re likely too bulky and numerous for your worm bin to handle). The only hitch is that if you’re gonna use your compost on your veggie garden, you’ll want to ensure that the milk cartons are printed with either vegetable-based inks or soy inks to avoid heavy metals and other toxins used in conventional inks. Call the manufacturer to find out for sure.



1  Human Footprint. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2010, from National Geographic:

2  Everything Counts. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2010, from National Geographic Green Guide:

3  Why recycle used milk containers?(n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2010, from Milk Container Recycling:

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