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Report Claims Carton Recycling in California Negligible; Carton Council Disputes Findings

A new report claims that carton recycling in California still is negligible despite substantial growth in residential collection opportunities. But the Carton Council of North America disputes its findings.

According to a report by the Sacramento-based Californians Against Waste (CAW), less than 3 percent of the two billion cartons in circulation annually in California get recycled. The report was based on a statewide survey and interviews of local recycling coordinators, collection program operators and recycled materials processors and brokers.

The report concludes that 37 percent of material recovery facility (MRF) operators reported landfilling collected cartons because of insufficient/uncertain collection volumes and markets, according to a news release. Most of the facilities handling the waste have no capacity for recycling the cartons, which require special processing. There are no end-use markets in California for cartons, the report stated.

“Carton manufacturers have recognized the need for a financial investment to make recycling a reality in California, but the level of that investment to date has been far too small and narrowly focused for carton recycling to become successful,” said Mark Murray, executive director of CAW.

CAW is calling for new incentives and infrastructure for carton recycling along the lines of California’s bottle bill.

The Vernon Hills, Ill.-based Carton Council took issue with several of the CAW study’s points.

Regarding the point that most cartons end up intermingled with waste, The Carton Council has collaborated with five MRFs in California to help support capital costs to accept and sort cartons, said Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the Carton Council of North America and vice president, environment, Tetra Pak.

The CAW report claims that only 13 percent of the MRFs sort cartons because the remainder don’t see the value. “Our data indicates that actually 15-17 percent of the MRFs in California sort cartons,” Pelz said. “And those are the largest MRFs that serve 30 percent of all households in California with access to carton recycling today.”

CAW’s proposal for a deposit system for cartons would reduce the volume of what is an already low-volume commodity, the council said. “The CAW recommendation would hurt carton recycling more than help it. “

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