Are wax milk cartons recyclable?

Research shows that people buy 6 billion gallons of milk a year, which translates to every person consuming about 20 gallons. If you have young children at home, numbers would most likely be higher. 

Regardless of your location, your milk should come packaged in one of three ways: paper cartons, plastic jugs or glass jars, all of which are highly recyclable. 

While not all curbside programs accept all types of milk containers, there are alternative resources to ensure milk cartons stay in your local landfill or incinerator.

What are milk cartons made of?

  • Paper milk cartons are made of paperboard covered with a thin layer of food-safe polyrthylrnrplastic (PET) on both sides of the paper. 
  • Shelf-stable milk cartons, or those that do not require refrigeration until the seal has been broken, also have a thin layer of aluminum foil on the inside of the package. 
  • Milk also comes in #2 plastic containers, which are made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE). 

Before milk cartons became popular, glass milk bottles were the norm. They were the only way to package milk in the 19th century. 

Paper milk cartons were invented in the early 20th century. However, it took some time to gain acceptance, since they could not be reused or sanitized. On the other hand, plastic milk jugs made their first appearance in the 1960s.

How do wax milk cartons get recycled?

Paper milk cartons can be separated from other types of paper and sent to paper mills, where they get repurposed into new products. These cartons can be melted down along with other #2 containers and turned back into new products as well.

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Milk bottles made from HDPE can be used for flow tiles, lumber, even recycling bins. 

Glass bottles can be combined with other used glass. To be made into new glass bottles, they just have to be melted down.

How to recycle wax milk cartons

Many curbside programs will accept milk cartons, regardless if it’s made from paper or plastic kind. While it is still best to check with your local provider to be sure, several curbside programs are known to accept paper and #2 plastic milk cartons. 

  • Make sure to rinse them well and let them drain. This will cut down sour milk odors in your recycle bin, as well as the amount of smelly liquid that could even contaminate the rest of the batch to be recycled. 

           There are a couple of questions you might ask your recycling facility about milk cartons.

  • Whether the lids should be left on or off. In the past, the lid should always be separated from the carton itself. However, recycling technology has improved over time. A lot of facilities now prefer caps and lids to stay in place. 
  • Whether or not you should tear out the plastic spout in the milk carton. In some cities, the answer is yes, but this request is rare. Paper mills often have a screening process, and the plastic pieces will get caught in it.
  • Search the company selling your glass milk bottles. Many of the companies can clean them and use them again. Research shows that some companies reuse their bottles four to six times before recycling them. 
  • Flatten, rinse, and drain. The best way to send these cartons for recycling is to make sure they are flattened. Rinse and drain milk cartons well before putting them in an envelope so the liquid does not seep through and cause the envelope to tear off.
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Reuse wax milk cartons for craft and home projects

Fortunately, you are sure to find a lot of ways to reuse empty milk cartons. In fact, they make great materials for a number of craft projects and use around the home. 

Once cleaned, used paper cartons can be turned into cute bird feeders or toy boats. On the other hand, you can also use those smaller cartons to plant your seeds during springtime. Plastic cartons can be painted with whimsical faces as Halloween masks, and can even be cut apart to make storage containers.

Common questions about recycling wax milk cartons

What can I do with empty milk cartons?

You can repurpose them into a lot of things you can use at home, such as planters for your seedlings, catchall containers for your trinkets, and as unique lanterns to spice up your home decor. 

Are milk cartons biodegradable?

If fully made from cardboard paper, milk cartons are highly biodegradable. It all depends on the other chemicals they have been processed with. Fortunately, studies show that most cartons used to package beverages like milk and juices have a high content of renewable materials.

Do milk cartons go in paper recycling?

Despite being primarily made from paper products, milk cartons are lined with either wax or polyethylene, a thin plastic sheet. Because of these other materials, milk cartons cannot go in paper recycling as their plastic contents may interfere with the recycling process.

With milk being one of the world’s most essential liquids, it is good to know that it is packed using the most sustainable materials–glass and paper cartons. However, it would still be better for us to switch to glass bottles when packing them to make it even more sustainable. That way, we can leave more space in recycling facilities for other materials.

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We have to rethink how we are doing it all. It is important to consider our footprint! Susan has been writing on this blog since 2020, but it has been on her mind for a lot longer!

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