What about milk cartons? Are they recyclable? ~Wondering

Dear Wondering,

Currently, the Recycling Center does not have the facilities to recycle gable-top (my new word for the day!) milk cartons. At first glance, these products seem like they should go in the cardboard recycling bin. But, these boxes aren’t your normal cardboard boxes! Think about what would happen if you poured orange juice in a cereal box. To keep any liquid from soaking through the cardboard, the boxes are lined with low density polyethylene (LDPE, or #4 plastic). This lining would need to be removed to make the boxes recyclable. Larger cities do have facilities for recycling them and, according to the Carton Council, “more than 60% of households across the country have access to carton recycling.” The Council is working to promote and increase carton recycling nationwide. Readers who want to help them achieve this goal can sign the Council’s petition at https://www.recyclecartons.com/petition.

I brought my cardboard to recycling last week and was shocked to see what someone had put in the bin – used pizza boxes. Greasy cardboard cannot be recycled. It is wonderful that people want to recycle, but they need to know what can be recycled. Greasy cardboard should be put in the trash. ~Not So Happy Recycler

Dear Not So Happy Recycler,

You are absolutely correct. Greasy cardboard, of any kind, must not be recycled. It only takes one greasy item to contaminate an entire batch. Cleanliness is not only important when recycling cardboard, but it is critical for everything that goes to recycling so that contamination doesn’t happen. When recycling cardboard boxes don’t forget to remove any packing materials, such as plastic, foam or Styrofoam peanuts. You do not need to flatten the boxes before recycling. Recycling cardboard important because it saves energy and it takes up so much space in the landfill. (Cardboard is the single largest component of municipal solid waste around the world.) To make new boxes out of recycled cardboard requires only 75% of the energy used to make new cardboard. Definitely better for our environment.

Someone told me that cereal boxes could be recycled with office paper. This doesn’t seem to make sense. Are they correct? ~Recycler

Dear Recycler,

Yes, you were given correct information, even though it sounds a little strange. In a previous column we said to put these items in with cardboard. Actually, cereal and toothpaste boxes, candy and frozen dinner boxes (not waxed), shoe and tissue boxes and other similar type boxes should be recycled with office paper! All these boxes are all made of the recyclable material called paperboard; a material similar in shape and composition to paper, but generally thicker, stronger, and more rigid. Earth911.com stated that “paperboard items have one layer while corrugated cardboard has three layers –two flat pieces sandwiched around a middle wavy layer.” Actually, we use lots of paperboard products every day, ones that we all may have previously put in with cardboard or in the trash. It seems weird at first to put a cereal box in with office paper, but I know we will all soon adapt to this new way of thinking about paperboard boxes.