Can You Recycle Ice Cream Cartons? (Don’t Make These Mistakes)

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

Almost everyone loves ice cream, therefore, according to the International Dairy Foods Association, approximately 23 pounds of ice cream is eaten every year in America alone. Some of the top flavors include vanilla, chocolate, and cookies n’ cream.

However, good things often come with a catch, and ice cream is one of those. Have you ever wondered what happens to those 23 pounds worth of ice cream cartons? Continue reading to find out what happens to these ice cream cartoons and if they’re recyclable or not!

Can You Recycle Ice Cream Cartons?

As a general rule, ice cream cartons are not, on average recyclable. This is because recycling facilities use water to break down paper containers in order to create a pulp-like substance that is then recycled into other items. Ice cream cartons have a wet-strength coating that prevents them from getting wet, therefore they are non-recyclable.

But have no fear; although typically non-recyclable, it isn’t impossible, and this is where the story begins. Keep reading to find out all you need to know about recycling ice cream cartons!

Where To Recycle Ice Cream Cartons

Technically all frozen food cartons are recyclable if the process is done right. 

As mentioned above, the only thing that separates them from a basic, say a cereal carton is the polyethylene plastic lining that allows the ice cream to stay frozen. 

This PE lining makes recycling them impossible as it cannot be broken down to a pulp substance during this process. 

However, a small handful of cities accept ice cream cartons in their facility as they are able to remove the coating of plastic that will then allow the paper to get wet and turned into pulp. 

To find out if your city accepts ice cream cartoons with this plastic lining as recyclable, visit your town hall webpage and look up the list of accepted materials in their recyclable programs. 

If frozen food containers or ice cream cartons are not listed, it is safe to assume they are not accepted and don’t include them with your recyclables. 

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However, if they are accepted, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Rinse the container thoroughly of any food. 
  • Make sure all food residue is cleaned out of the carton.
  • Any food left in the carton can contaminate other recyclables making them unlikely to be recycled by the recycling facility. 

How Are Ice Cream Cartons Recycled?

A machine called a hydro pulper which can be found at a paper mill, can be described as a gigantic blender. 

All paper products destined to be recycled are delivered to a paper mill to be processed in the hydro pulper. 

Water is then used to break down the containers, which are blended to form a substance suitable to be made into other paper products.

In the case of cartons with plastic PE coating, however, it is impossible to break down the paper into a pulp.

What Materials Are Ice Cream Cartons Made Of?

What Materials Are Ice Cream Cartons Made Of? 

Have you ever wondered how ice cream can stay frozen throughout its journey from the factory all the way to your spoon? 

Well, an ice cream carton’s base is made from your basic run-of-the-mill cardboard material, but it is then coated with a plastic lining that is known as polyethylene. 

This wet-strength polyethylene lining allows the cardboard to remain water-resistant. 

It also prevents the carton from falling apart when subjected to freezing and sometimes wet temperatures during transport and storage. 

Why Is Ice Cream Packaged In Cartons?

Ice cream is typically contained in cardboard due to its excellent insulating abilities. 

Furthermore, PE-lined cardboard is designed to withstand the elements of rising and lowering temperatures. 

This allows the ice cream to maintain its frozen integrity for extended periods of time during shipment, delivery, and its final destination on the car ride home without melting completely.  

Are Ice Cream Cartons Biodegradable?

So, while ice cream cartons in their primary form of paper are biodegradable, due to the plastic coating, they would not typically be classified as a biodegradable item. 

Therefore, if the ice cream carton you want to put in your compost bin still has the PE lining, it would not be safe to add to your compost container. 

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It would be impossible for the cardboard to break down at any rate while still containing the polyethylene coating. 

Even after shredding, the chemicals in the polyethylene would cause many issues for your compost bin. 

However, if you have the extra time, the plastic coating can be removed and the cardboard can be shredded to ensure safety and optimum performance for your composting needs. 

Ice Cream Brands That Are Recyclable 

Brands are always trying to introduce the next innovative product while also focusing on ways to protect the environment. 

Ice Cream Companies understand that using PE-lined cartons for their desserts is not sustainable for the environment, and consumers demand more eco-friendly accommodations. 

Therefore, these  ice cream companies are paving the way in the industry when it comes to lessening their carbon fingerprint on the planet: 

  • Ben and Jerry’s- Uses a one-sided plant-based lining of polyethylene in their European factory.
  • Unilever/ Solero Organic Peach Flavor(only)- Uses a thin layer of polyethylene inside their multipack box and five integrated compartments.
  • Nestle/Haagen Dazs- Has partnered with TerraCycle, a global recycling organization, to offer consumers a reusable double-walled steel ice cream container. After using subscribers leave emptied containers on their doorstep, they are collected by the company, cleaned, and reused.

How To Remove The Plastic Lining

Acetone can be used to remove the plastic lining on your ice cream cartons. 

It does take some time and a bit of elbow grease, but you can eventually rub away the outer coating and reveal the cardboard underneath with some patience. 

How To Reuse and Upcycle Ice Cream Cartons

If the thought of throwing away a carton into the garbage fills you with anxiety, finding simple and fun ways to recycle ice cream cartons yourself should put you at ease. 

Elementary teachers everywhere have already coined the art of turning anything from a toilet paper roll to an empty chip bag into the most stunning projects.

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Taking their lead, below are a few creative ideas to get you started: 

  • Make homemade ice cream– Packaging included 
  • Storage container for food that needs to be frozen- Say goodbye to freezer burn, wrap your item in aluminum foil or a freezer bag, and store it in the carton for added protection. 
  • DIY toy/art supply container– Have a child create a decorative cover for the carton, glue or tape to the container, and you have a nifty storage box that costs nothing. 
  • Pot a plant– Poke a few holes in the bottom of the container, and you’ve got yourself a beginner planter for your plant. As the plant grows, you can upgrade to a ceramic pot. 
  • Coin collector– Make a slit big enough to put a quarter through and start that weekend getaway savings fund. 
  • Bathroom essentials holder- If you need a place to store q-tips, cotton balls, and dental floss, wrap a clean carton in some fancy contact paper, slap on a label, and problems solving. 
  • Tissue box– Take a couple of smaller packs of tissues and fill up a clean ice cream carton, make a slit at the top and enjoy. 

To learn more, you can also read our posts on whether you can recycle Styrofoam & plastic egg cartons, whether you can recycle bubble mailers, and whether you can recycle cup of noodles.

Conclusion

It is safe to say that ice cream is a staple in almost every household, and the truth is told, no one is giving it up any time soon, recyclable or not. The hope is, however, that eventually, all cities will incorporate a more efficient way of making recycling cartons a possibility. 

In the meantime, consumers can purchase their ice cream from brands advertising eco-friendly containers, recycle their own containers by stripping off the plastic layer, or by upcycling and creating new products with their old containers. 

Author

  • Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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