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Do You Know How to Recycle Milk Cartons?

Can I recycle paper cartons?

Yes, you can recycle paper cartons!

First, empty the carton, but don’t flatten it. If the carton has a straw, tuck the straw inside. If it has a cap, screw the cap back on before recycling so it doesn’t become separated and turn into litter.

What are the different types of cartons? Can they all be recycled?

Gable top cartons, or refrigerated cartons, are made of paper and plastic liner. They store refrigerated food like milk, juice and cream.

Aseptic cartons, or shelf-stable cartons, are made of paper, plastic and aluminum liners. They store non-refrigerated food like soup, broth and wine.

Both types of cartons can be recycled.

What happens to my cartons after I recycle them?

Cartons pressed flat and formed into bales

After you recycle your cartons, they are sent to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). The cartons are sorted out, baled and sent to paper mills and recycling plants. 

At paper mills, cartons are put in a hydro pulper, where the paper is separated from the plastic and aluminum. The pulp is sent directly to the mill’s paper machine or dried into sheets that are turned into paperboard, tissue and cardboard.

The plastic and aluminum go to different mills where they are turned into ceiling tiles, wallboard and sometimes even energy to fuel the mill.

At recycling plants, cartons don’t get separated into paper and plastic and aluminum. Instead, the whole carton gets turned into building materials like construction board.

Why should I recycle my cartons?

When Americans recycle just 30% of all municipal solid waste, it has the same effect on greenhouse gasses as taking 25 million cars off the road. Recycling cartons reduces waste in landfills and extends the useful life of paper fibers.

What do I do if there’s no carton recycling in my area?

A daughter helping her father recycle cartons outside

A majority of U.S. households have access to carton recycling through curbside or drop-off programs. But if you’ve checked local guidelines, and your community doesn’t accept them, here’s what you can do:

  • Educate your community on why it should start recycling cartons
  • Mail your cartons to a facility that does accept them
  • Sign this petition to bring carton recycling to you

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recyclable resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative —Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately 5% of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures about $350 billion in products annually and employs about 925,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of about $65 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 43 states. Visit AF&PA online at or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper