Are Egg Cartons Recyclable?

Brown Eggs
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Yes, most egg cartons are recyclable, depending on the material they are made of.

The typical cartons found across supermarkets are generally made of paper byproducts, #1 plastics, or Styrofoam. Plastic cartons pose no problems when it comes recycling and paper cartons can be placed in most residential recycling carts. Styrofoam or foam, however, is not accepted by most recycling facilities.

How to Recycle Paper and Plastic Egg Cartons

Recycling paper and plastic egg cartons is fairly easy because those are the most widely accepted materials. Pulp paper egg cartons are often made from recycled materials and can be recycled again. They are also biodegradable and compostable. Most paper egg cartons can be placed in your recycling bin just like any other paper product. As long as they have the universal recycling symbol on the packaging, they can be broken down, mashed into a pulp, and turned into another form of paper product.

Recycle symbol on egg carton
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There are, however, some egg cartons that cannot be recycled precisely because their fibers have been broken down so much. And some recycling facilities are not able to process egg cartons at all. Although nowadays these are more of an exception, be sure to double-check with your local curbside service and look for the recycling symbol on the cartons before putting them in the recycling bin — and don't forget that you can always add them to your compost.

Plastic cartons may also be made from previously recycled materials like soda bottles. They are usually categorized as a plastic #1, which is commonly accepted by curbside recycling services. Plastic cartons can be washed and melted down for reprocessing. Though the recycling process requires a great deal of energy and water, these products often undergo multiple uses before they can't be recycled any further. Plastic, for instance, can usually be recycled a couple of times before the quality of the material lessens.

Whether your eggs are protected by paper or plastic, make sure that the cartons are completely clean before you send them to be recycled. Any contamination, including egg remnants or grease, risks spoiling the recycling process.

Recycling Through Your Local Curbside Pickup

This is the most common method for recycling egg cartons. If there's any doubt as to whether or not your carton is eligible, check the underside of the packaging to confirm it falls into one of the categories (#1 for plastics). The recycling symbol should be clearly stamped on the carton.

As long as the cartons are clean, they can be included with either paper or plastic recyclables for weekly pickup. Of course, it is always advisable to check the policies of your city's program just to be sure it's being done correctly.

Take Back Programs

Some locally owned grocery stores, co-ops, farms, and egg retailers participate in take back collections in which egg cartons can be brought in for recycling or reuse. This can be a huge cost-saver for many farmers, not to mention a good way to keep cartons out of trash cans and landfills.

Begin your search at your farmers market, where many vendors will be glad to accept egg cartons to reuse or compost. Local grocery stores may also have take back programs. And some larger egg farms, such as Nellie's Free Range Eggs and Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs, have programs that will pay for shipping the egg cartons back to them.

Why Styrofoam Egg Cartons Are Not Recycled

Full Frame Shot Of Stacked Polystyrene Egg Cartons
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Polystyrene foam, or Styrofoam, is a widely used material that works well for the transport and handling of food and fragile items — like eggs. Unfortunately, Styrofoam is made from petroleum-based polystyrene, or plastic #6. Although the material is technically recyclable, the service is not often offered because the process is expensive and the market for the material is too small. In a landfill, Styrofoam will take at least 500 years to biodegrade, if ever.

Your curbside service won't recycle Styrofoam egg cartons, but some local governments and municipalities will accept them at specific locations and times. This will require a bit of research and extra effort on your part, but it's well worth it. A better option would be, of course, to avoid purchasing anything at all that comes in this kind of packaging.

Ways to Reuse Egg Cartons

Reused egg box with sprouts
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When it comes to choosing eggs, it’s best to opt for cartons made from paper or plastic from the start. Both of those options allow for composting or recycling once you're done with them. Or even better, limit the supply of surplus egg cartons by buying eggs from a nearby community farm instead of a chain grocery store. In addition to supporting local agriculture, they often allow you to bring back your cartons for the next dozen. Some companies are even opting for reusable egg cartons, which customers can bring to the point of sale, refill from a loose egg display, and take home.

If all else fails, don't despair; there are many environmentally friendly options and ideas to give a new purpose to your old egg cartons.

Add Egg Cartons to Your Compost

Egg cartons are made from paperboard, which is a high-carbon material that can be used with your "browns" in composting (along with leaves, wood chips, and dry grass). Simply tear the egg cartons into smaller pieces, add them to your compost, cover them with some "greens" (like coffee grounds and vegetable and fruit trimmings), and carry on with your normal composting method.

Projects at Home

If you find yourself with a growing pile of cartons, don't toss them aside just yet. Instead, clean and save your empties. These containers are well-built and long-lasting, so you can put them to use for household storage, crafts, and organizational projects. If you're stuck for ideas, here are some simple suggestions to reuse egg cartons:

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Which is the most environmentally friendly egg carton material?

    The most environmentally friendly egg carton material is paper, which can be repeatedly recycled and composted. Plastic is the next best option, and styrofoam is the least eco-friendly because it's scarcely recyclable.

  • How long does it take egg cartons to decompose?

    Paper cartons take two to four weeks to decompose, plastic cartons can take up to 1,000 years, and styrofoam can take 500 years.

  • What kinds of items do egg cartons get recycled into?

    Paper egg cartons are typically reduced to a pulp and formed into new egg cartons or other recycled paper products. PET plastics often get recycled into new packaging, clothing, construction materials, and automotive parts.

View Article Sources
  1. "The lifecycle of plastics." World Wildlife Fund Australia.

  2. "Styrofoam Facts —Why You May Want To Bring Your Own Cup." Society of Environmental Journalists.

  3. "Timeline for Decomposition." Peace Corps.