In recent years, we have received many questions regarding recycled plastic egg cartons (also known as RPET, a type of #1 plastic). Our customers usually want to know whether they are recyclable or why we sell them at all due to their bad rap. Seeing that we sell many plastic egg cartons each year, we think it is our duty to share our thoughts on this.
Plastic Egg Cartons vs Paper Egg Cartons
Paper egg cartons are usually seen as being the most environmentally friendly egg carton. Pulp is made from a natural, renewable and sustainable resource and usually boasts the highest recycling rate of any material. It can easily be broken down and recycled to create other paper products. Paper egg cartons are also biodegradable which means that if they are left in natural environments they will eventually break down.
Plastic egg cartons, on the other hand, are made from a non-renewable resource (oil), are not biodegradable, and some of them end up in our precious ocean water. Plastic, however, is widely accepted at recycling facilities and can be used over and over again, unlike paper whose fibers are too weak and short to be repeatedly reused.
According to the EPS Industry Alliance, U.S. government figures show that pulp and paper manufacturers are the fourth largest industrial emitters of greenhouse gases. Further, the pulp and paper industry releases about 212 million tons of hazardous substances into the air and water and is ranked as the third-largest user of industrial water. The EPA figures indicate that the pulp and paper industry ranks in the top four among U.S. manufacturing industries in the release of dioxin and dioxin-like compounds.
While plastic may be a toxic pollutant, recycled plastic egg cartons can, at times, reduce our carbon footprint by using what is already available to us rather than producing something new.
Are Plastic And Paper Egg Cartons Recyclable?
Yes. Plastic and paper egg cartons can be recycled, but it depends.
Before I have a mutiny on my hands – hear me out. Just because something is recyclable does not mean that it is actually recycled.
In fact, according to a landmark 2017 study published in the Journal Science Advances, “Since 1950, the world has created 6.3 trillion kilograms of plastic waste and 91% has never been recycled even once.” This makes for a lousy 9% recycling rate.
Paper, on the other hand, is recycled at a much higher rate. In 2018, The United States Environmental Protection Agency found that of the 64 million tons of paper generated, approximately 46 million tons were recycled, a staggering 68% paper recycling rate.
Looking at these figures, we can see that paper is recycled much more often than plastic (almost 8x more!). Does this mean that pulp egg cartons are better than plastic egg cartons? Keep reading.
Should I Buy Plastic or Pulp Egg Cartons?
Last week, We received a call from a customer, who had thousands of paper egg crates at his machine shop that he wanted to recycle. He couldn’t find a recycling facility that would accept them. Why?
His pulp egg trays had oil on them. Recycling facilities deemed them as being contaminated and refused to accept them. He had to dump all these trays in the trash, which means these paper products ended up in a landfill along with several of our other customers' paper egg cartons and trays.
Contrary to popular belief, neither paper nor plastic readily degrades in a landfill. Landfills are specifically designed this way because degradation creates noxious by-products that can contaminate groundwater and air. Once in the trash, plastic and paper egg cartons are virtually equal, environmentally speaking.
Does this mean that pulp egg cartons are just as bad as plastic? No. It means that the environmental impact of your purchasing decision will depend on things other than your carton’s recycling rate or biodegradability. The material, amount or type of debris on the carton, and local recycling center protocol will heavily influence whether the egg carton is recycled or not.
Taking all the factors mentioned into consideration, here’s what we think.
| We lean towards plastic when...
We lean towards paper/pulp when...
You are unable to recycle or compost your paper egg cartons, but you are able to recycle plastic
You are able to recycle or compost your paper egg cartons or trays
You are able to reuse your carton or tray several times – this usually applies to machine shops
You are unable to reuse your carton or tray several times
Your plastic egg cartons come from recycled plastic – Look for RPET on your carton to be sure its recyclable
When the pulp being used is recycled rather than virgin. The use of virgin pulp contributes to deforestation issues. Look for “made from 100% recycled paper” on the carton.
If you take two things away from this article, we hope it is this. One, that paper egg cartons are not perfect when you take their lifespan into consideration. Two, there is more to plastic egg cartons, environmentally, than their recycling rate. There is an entire lifecycle of a product that we think should be considered when evaluating its burden on the environment. Whether you are set on plastic or paper egg cartons, we welcome you at EggCartons.com. Which cartons do you prefer?
Interested in growing your egg collecting knowledge or expanding your egg collection storage? Check out our other blogs and shop for everything from plastic, foam, or paper egg cartons on our website now!