One of the lingering images of the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is store shelves stripped clean of paper products — mainly paper towels and toilet paper.
Fortunately, supply chains have rebounded, but consumers can help combat future paper product shortages by recycling not only paper, but cartons used for milk, juice, soup, and other food or beverage products.
Much of the information consumers receive about recycling can be confusing, according to the Carton Council of North America, an organization composed of carton manufacturers such as Elopak, Evergreen Packaging, SIG Combibloc, and Tetra Pak.
A national survey conducted by the Carton Council found that an overwhelming majority of consumers (95 percent) are supportive of recycling and 58 percent say the circumstances of 2020 and the pandemic have made them feel it’s more important to recycle now than it was before.
However, only about a third of consumers say they thought recycling might help with shortages of toilet paper and paper towels. In fact, one ton of paper made from recycled fibers instead of virgin fibers conserves not only 7,000 gallons of water, but also 17 to 31 trees, 4,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, and 60 pounds of air pollutants, according to the Carton Council.
“It’s great to see that people are recognizing the importance of recycling, but we need to remain diligent,” says Carla Fantoni, vice president of communications for the Carton Council of North America and for Tetra Pak Americas.
“We need to reinforce the connection between recycling and creating new products to consumers, showing why it’s so important to recycle and the benefits,” Fantoni adds.
For example, a persistent myth about cartons (a multi-layer package) is that they can’t be recycled or are too difficult to recycle.
However, cartons can be recycled and contain the highest quality paper fibers in the recycling stream, and they are used by paper mills to make new materials including paper towels and toilet paper.
Recycling cartons is easy, according to the Carton Council. Just make sure milk, juice or other cartons are empty: no need to spend time washing them. Caps can be left on, and small straws that accompany juice boxes can be pushed inside the carton before dropping it in the recycling bin.