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Are Egg Cartons Recyclable? (Plus 8 Clever Uses for Them)

Are Egg Cartons Recyclable? (Plus 8 Clever Uses for Them)
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While there’s plenty of controversy surrounding whether or not eggs are healthy, there’s no denying that there are a multitude of ways to eat them, either on their own or as part of a meal. In a typical week, we go through about a dozen eggs, but from time to time, we’ll easily go through twice that amount.

As we’ve become more conscious of the amount of waste we produce at home, we’ve taken a closer look at the items that we used to throw away. We then try to figure out if there’s a better solution, whether it’s recycling, composting, or reusing.

One item that seems to confuse a lot of people are egg cartons. Although they appear to be made of recyclable materials, most people don’t think they’re recyclable. Is this correct? And if so, why aren’t they recyclable?

First, let’s determine whether or not egg cartons can be recycled. Then, I’ll dive into some alternative uses and disposal methods for them.

Can You Recycle Egg Cartons?

As you’ve probably noticed, not all egg cartons are created equal. The most common types are made of either styrofoam or cardboard, but there are alternatives. For a while, we were buying a local brand of eggs, and the eggs came with a clear plastic top and bottom.

With egg cartons being made of multiple materials, it’s not quite cut and dry when it comes to whether or not they can safely be recycled. Each recycling company also has their own rules on what is and isn’t acceptable, so you always have to pay attention to these rules as well.

Because of these complexities, let’s take a look at each of these common materials separately. First up is cardboard.

Cardboard egg cartons can typically be recycled. However, some recycling centers don’t accept egg cartons of any material, so you have to check with them to be safe. There are likely two reasons for this.

First, it makes it easier for people to remember, leading to less egg cartons being recycled that aren’t safe to recycle. Second, cardboard can only be recycled a handful of times due to the wood fibers getting shorter each time, and egg cartons are often toward the end of that chain.

Unlike cardboard, styrofoam egg cartons typically cannot be recycled. Although more and more recycling centers are accepting them, the majority of them still reject them.

If your local, curbside recycling doesn’t take them, you can likely send them back to the manufacturer to be recycled.

The third most common type of container is made of clear plastic. Clear plastic egg containers are almost always safe to recycle along with your other curbside items.

To be safe, look for a recyclable symbol on your packaging, and also make sure your local recycling company doesn’t reject all egg cartons, regardless of material.

Why Are Egg Cartons Not Recyclable?

As mentioned above, egg cartons in general are recyclable, although you might have to go as far as mailing your cartons back to the manufacturer to recycle foam containers. So, what are some are reasons that egg cartons might not be recyclable?

First, any egg carton that has been contaminated with food (most likely eggs) cannot be recycled. Food waste can contaminate recycled paper, which is why all recycled items need to be clean. If you put your cracked eggshells back into your egg carton after cracking your eggs, it can’t be recycled.

Also, just like with paper towels, egg cartons often represent a last-use, or close to last-use, item. By this I mean they are made of paper that has already been recycled several times.

Each time paper is recycled, the wood fibers get shorter. As a result, there is a maximum number of cycles for recycling.

By far the most common reason that egg cartons aren’t recyclable is that your local recycling company simply won’t accept them. It’s more common these days for this to only apply to styrofoam containers, but as I mentioned before, you’ll sometimes see rules that state that all egg cartons are not allowed.

What to Do with Egg Cartons?

Whether your egg cartons are not safe to recycle, or you simply want to find another use for them before considering a disposal option, there are plenty of ways to reuse them.

1 – Compost Them

If your containers are made of cardboard, one of the best disposal options is to compost them. Egg cartons are a brown material (rich in carbon), so they provide a great addition to your compost pile to balance out your carbon-rich items.

While you might think that throwing your cartons away would result in them breaking down in the landfill, it’s nowhere near as effective as composting. For egg cartons to break down, they need good aeration, which a landfill doesn’t provide.

2 – Hold Paint

If you or your children like to paint small objects or make small paintings, what better way to keep your paint colors separated than an egg carton? The shape and size of each compartment is just about perfect for holding a small amount of paint.

3 – Start Seedlings

Composting isn’t the only way to use your egg cartons in your garden. You can also use them to start your seedlings. Simply add some soil and seeds to your carton, then provide the necessary support for growth.

4 – Give Them to a Local Farmer

A great way to get another use out of your egg cartons is to give them to a local chicken farmer. As long as your cartons are clean, they will likely take them off of your hands to be reused for new eggs.

5 – Use Them for Packaging

One of the best uses for foam egg cartons is to turn them into packaging peanuts. Simply crumple up the foam and use the pieces to provide protection for your shipments. The same can be done with cardboard egg cartons as well, although it might not be quite as effective.

6 – Use Them for Storage

If you need a way to store a lot of small items, an egg carton might be ideal for you. Whether you need to store beads, nuts and washers, or even golf balls, an egg carton provides separate compartments and some added protection for your items.

7 – Use Them for Transportation

One of the best benefits of egg cartons is that they do a decent job of keeping eggs from breaking when being transported from one location to another. You can take advantage of this feature by using them to transport your valuables or small baked goods.

8 – Donate Them to a Local School

If none of these options work well for you, let someone else get creative with your egg cartons. Schools, and organizations that work with children, often do projects that involve egg cartons. Call around and see if someone will take them off of your hands. They will likely be grateful for your donation.

These are just a handful of ideas to get you started. Do a quick online search for even more ideas. You might be surprised by how creative you can get with egg cartons.

Final Thoughts

Most of us are guilty of producing way more waste than we’d like to admit, so it’s always nice when we can find ways to reuse or recycle. Thankfully, egg cartons fall into this category.

While not all types of egg cartons can safely be recycled, you have plenty of options that are better than the landfill. Whether you dispose of your egg containers by composting or find a way to reuse them, you’re doing your part to limit our waste contributions.