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Milk Cartons & Aseptic Packaging Should No Longer Be Recycled

We are no longer able to accept aseptic packaging, milk cartons, and other poly-coated cartons and packaging for recycling. These items should be put into the trash.

Aseptic Packaging

Think boxed liquid packaging like soy milk, wine, soups, juice and sauces; the kind of packaging that makes perishable items shelf-stable and pathogen free for up to one year without refrigeration.

 

Milk Carton

Sometimes referred to as gable-top cartons, these are your typical milk, cream or orange juice containers for refrigeration.

 

What Changed?

The recycling industry is constantly changing, but now the market for recyclables is nothing short of volatile. Impacted by world markets, new regulations, changes in standards it’s difficult to keep up. Recent months have been characterized as a turning point, or paradigm shift, for the industry as a whole, especially for those regions (such as ours) that are heavily dependent on China or other Asian markets. There’s too much market uncertainty and the industry is already grappling with sharply reduced commodity revenues, rising operating costs, a surplus of Mixed Paper and scrap plastics, and the imposition of much stricter quality standards for all other scrap imports.

At this point, it’s not unusual for a material grade that was in high demand and fetched top-dollar a year ago, to be totally unsellable today. Unsellable is the key. You see, we (Mill Valley Refuse Service) collect your recycling and deliver it to a Materials Recovery/Reclamation Facility or MRF (pronounced “murf”) where those materials are sorted, prepared and sold to manufacturers for future production. If there isn’t a market for the MRF to sell that material grade into, then that material will likely end up in landfill.

That’s why it’s so important that we only put into our recycling carts that which will actually end up being recycled.

Unfortunately, the processors we work with have told us that they will no longer be accepting aseptic packaging and other poly-coated cartons for recycling. While they used to accept this material grade, there are a few factors that led to them to change their policy:

1) It is very difficult (and sometimes impossible) to secure an order for this material grade. While this type of packaging is technically recyclable, the types of American paper mills that use this grade of paper are not located in all regions of the country and none are located on the west coast. The only alternative then, is to turn to China or other markets in Asia for the sale of this grade, and those customers are neither large consumers of this grade, nor is their demand for this grade consistent.

2) The volume of these items in the household stream of recyclables is very low in absolute terms and as a percent of total stream composition. It’s difficult to justify giving a lot of operational attention to an item with relatively low volume, inconsistent markets, and uncertain market value – especially in a challenging global market and rising cost environment. In addition, since the volume is so low, it often takes several weeks or even months to accumulate a full truckload. In that span of time, the baled cartons may develop mold and/or foul order, which also hampers marketability.

While we all want to divert material from landfills, at this point, there isn’t another option for aseptic packaging, milk cartons, and other poly-coated cartons. Please be sure to put these items into your trash.

 

Visit our Recycling page for more information about what materials are recyclable.

Also, check out this article from NPR’s The Salt: In The Recycling World, Why Are Some Cartons Such A Problem?