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Recycling Q & A: Milk Cartons

By Annie Bell Muzaurieta |
Half gallon milk cartons are made of paper but the pour-easy spouts are plastic. Where should you place an empty one?

You've polished off that box of cereal and now the milk is all gone. Where do you place the milk carton—in the paper recycle bin; the containers bin; or in the garbage? It depends.

A plastic gallon jug has an obvious destination—but there are two types of milk cartons, which prompted one of our members to ask us about this recycling mystery. Gable top cartons are the half-gallon ones you find in the refrigerated section that have the angled top. Aseptic cartons are shelf stable containers that can hold milk up to 12 months (think also juice boxes, chicken broth cartons).

490,000 tons of milk cartons were generated in 2008, but only .05 percent were recycled.

Both are recyclable, just not everywhere—yet. The recycling of waxy containers has become more common, according to the EPA, but only 26 states currently have curbside programs.

According to an EPA study of municipal waste, 490,000 tons of milk cartons were generated in 2008, but only 5000 tons or .05 percent were recycled. And Americans consume hundreds of pounds of milk each year (206 pounds of milk per capita in 2007, according to one study).

Giovanna Lemos of Tetrapak, one of the largest producers of cartons, says that the company is working with other states to establish curbside recycling programs and the containers are in fact not hard to recycle.

What's a thirsty milk drinker to do? First check to see if your municipality accepts these containers for recycling, which you can do at the Carton Council's website. If you're in the club, go to your local government's website to see if you should place the cartons with other beverage containers or with mixed paper.

You should empty and rinse containers before recycling and remove caps and lids before placing them in the bin.

Finally, open up the next box of cereal, and enjoy.

Have you hit any roadblocks when recycling milk cartons in your town? Share your comments below!

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  • Devon C. 17 days ago
  • Debra P. 4 years ago
    I am presuming that I should start recycling them since I hadn't before. thanks!
  • Elaine F. 5 years ago
    Didn't know it was recyclable. Will recycle from now on.
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  • 7 years ago
    if you are a heavy milk drinker, the gaallons fill the recycle bin quickly. try buying a roll of twine and stringing the plasdtic gallons onto a length of twine. you'd be amazed at how many jugs fit on the twine
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