oat milk carton and coffee cup.
Carton Recycling

Carton Recycling and Disposal

The UK produces 82 million tonnes of packaging waste each year – and waste cartons contribute significantly to these figures. Commonly used for milk and other drinks, once you’re done with a carton it’s important you know how to dispose of it correctly to help protect the environment.

In both the home and workplace, carton waste is regularly produced in our kitchens. However, methods of disposal can differ. From drinks carton recycling to disposing of soup and other types of these containers, find out everything you need to know about carton recycling below.

Carton recycling

  • What type of waste are cartons?

    Used cartons are a form of packaging waste. They can easily be recycled because they’re made from a combination of paper, plastic, and aluminium – all of which are recyclable materials. Depending on exactly what they’re made from, some cartons may simply class as cardboard waste.

  • Who invented cartons?

    The invention of cartons is often credited to Robert Gair, who was previously known for creating paper bags and other forms of paper packaging. He created the first cartons in 1839 when searching for semi-flexible packaging that offered a little more support and structure than traditional bags.

  • What materials are cartons made from?

    Cartons are made from various recyclable materials – with paper (paperboard) being used in the most significant volumes. However, they also contain polyethene (a type of plastic) and aluminium foil. Plastic can be used for the lid in some cases, while aluminium foil is used to protect the contents and give them a longer shelf-life.

  • How are cartons made?

    The process of creating cartons varies depending on their intended use. For example, drinks cartons often require extra insulation to ensure the product is safe for consumption. The general process to make cartons is:

    • Sheets of paperboard are cut to size and dried.
    • The paperboard is then pulled through rollers, which apply both heat and pressure to the paper, stretching it out. During this process, a thin polythene film is created, which is layered over the paperboard.
    • Additional products such as aluminium foil are layered on top of the product.
    • The paperboard is fed into a printing machine or press, where any necessary designs or logos are attached. For example, if the carton is being used to store milk, the brand’s name is added to the board.
    • Cartons are constructed using specialist machinery, with glue used to seal the seams in place.
    • The finished cartons are filled and a lid attached.
  • How do you dispose of cartons?

    Many different businesses, such as supermarkets and restaurants, produce large volumes of carton waste as part of their daily operations. You should ensure it’s all disposed of correctly through carton recycling, diverting it away from landfill. To dispose of cartons, you should:

    • Ensure all used cartons are clean and dry before disposal, so they’re free from any potential contaminants.
    • Store carton waste in appropriate containers – such as a paper waste bin, wheelie bin for paper recycling, or a recycling baler.
    • Arrange professional waste collection of these bins by licensed waste carriers – who will transport to a nearby recycling centre.
  • What happens to cartons after they’re put in the bin?

    Cartons will typically take around five years to decompose if sent to landfill sites by being disposed of alongside your general waste. While this may not seem that long (especially compared to plastic products), they can still do considerable damage to the environment during this time. Thankfully, the recycling process for cartons is relatively straightforward:

    • Cartons are taken to specialist recycling facilitates, known as paper mills.
    • Here, they’re fed into a large mixer and combined with water. This separates the different products from each other (paper, aluminium, and plastic polymers).
    • Each of these materials is extracted and cleaned before being reintroduced to the manufacturing process. They’re often used to make new paper products or cartons.
  • What are some eco-friendly alternatives to cartons?

    Since the materials used to create cartons can be easily recycled, they’re widely considered a perfectly acceptable (and sustainable) form of packaging – and fairly eco-friendly themselves. However, there are a few alternatives you may want to consider using instead, such as cartons made from already-recycled materials such as plastic. Glass jars or containers are also easier to recycle and suitable for re-use.

  • Can you do anything with cartons instead of throwing them away?

    Thankfully, you don’t need to throw away cartons directly after use – as they’re a versatile product that can be put to use in other ways throughout your home or business. For example, cartons can be used as planters for those putting their gardening skills to the test.

    Alternatively, you can cut them down to different sizes and use them for storage, making desk organisation a breeze. Finally, you can use them in various craft projects.

  • What are the costs associated with recycling and disposing of cartons?

    At Business Waste, we believe recycling should be affordable, as it’s so important. We provide cost-effective waste management services across the board. For example, we’ll help you get started on the right foot by giving you free access to bins and containers – such as recycling balers – for you to store your carton waste in before disposal.

  • How many cartons are there?

    There are approximately two trillion drinks cartons made every year.

  • What are some facts about carton recycling?

    A few facts about cartons are that:

    • While the exact figures regarding the number of cartons in landfill is unclear, paper waste makes up around 26% of the waste sent to landfill sites each year.
    • When recycled, cartons can be turned into new cartons, paper towels, or even tissues.
    • Cartons are considered a sustainable product because they’re lightweight and don’t take up too much space. As a result, they often take up less space than other forms of packaging during shipment.
  • Where can you take cartons to recycle or dispose of them for free?

    Thankfully, cartons can be recycled alongside the rest of your general recycling at home, which is collected by your local council. This is because they can easily be sorted at recycling facilities. Additionally, many supermarkets have designated waste collection points where you can leave all manner of recyclables – including cartons – free of charge.

Learn about more 
waste types

Find out more about other rubbish streams.

Read our guides to waste types
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