14 November 2016
By Jason Pelz, vice president of environment, Tetra Pak North, Central and South America
America Recycles Day is upon us, but does America recycle? Studies overwhelmingly reveal that Americans support recycling. Earlier this year, the Carton Council of North America released a study which revealed that 90 percent of respondents believe recycling is important and people should do what they can to try and recycle. Ninety-five percent believe that if more people recycled, it would help the environment.
Unfortunately, support for recycling doesn’t always translate into action. In that same study, 82 percent of Americans reported that most or some of the homes in their neighborhood set out their recycling. However, we know that as a nation, recycling participation is nowhere near this high.
So, what is holding consumers back from recycling more?
The top barriers to recycling seem to fall under one of two categories:
  1. Lack of the means to recycle.
  2. Lack of awareness or knowledge of how to recycle
Our research shows that by removing these barriers which consumers see as preventing them to recycle, we can drive action.
Lacking the means to recycle can either mean not having a recycling container or having a recycling container that is not substantial enough in size. It can also mean not having access to local or convenient recycling. We formed in 2009 and one of our top priorities has been to build access to carton recycling, as access is the foundation to grow recycling rates. At that time, only 18 percent of U.S. households had access to carton recycling. Now more than 58 percent do as a result of public and private partnerships with communities, MRFs and paper mills.
In 2014, we joined the Recycling Partnership to help improve access in other ways. Recognizing that size of the recycling container impacts both recycling participation and the quantity collected, one of the organization’s key initiatives has been investing in large recycling carts. This makes recycling more convenient. And having a large container reinforces the message that more materials can be recycled instead of going into the trash.
Lack of Awareness/Knowledge: Communications about recycling must be ongoing and consistent. People can’t be told once to recycle. They need to be reminded; Information about what days to set out as well as what and how to recycle are both important. Lack of this knowledge is a barrier. Recycling information needs to be easy to find. This includes information on the packaging; on websites, including the community site, material recovery facilities (MRFs) and the product brand websites; and even on the recycling containers themselves. This is why the Carton Council works with communities once they come on board with carton recycling to make sure their residents know that cartons are now accepted in their local program.
Our research revealed that when asked what it would take for Americans to recycle more of our packages, among the top responses cited were more easily identifiable information on the package, more information in general on what to recycle and more reminders. Sixty-seven percent of consumers reported that they would assume a package is not recyclable if it did not have a recycling symbol or language on it. This is where product brands play a critical role. By communicating about carton recycling on package and on the product’s website and promotional materials, brands can help increase the recycling of cartons.
We believe continuing to work to address these barriers can and is having a positive effect on recycling. Thank you for your support and commitment to recycling. Happy America Recycles Day!

If you are interested in learning more, email carton.recycling@hkstrategies.com or visit www.CartonOpportunities.org.

Jason Pelz is Vice President of Environment for Tetra Pak North, Central and South America. Pelz and his team work with various stakeholders throughout the Americas to lower the impact cartons have on environment. Pelz is responsible for executing Tetra Pak’s environment strategy throughout North, Central and South America. Pelz also serves as Vice President of Recycling Projects for Carton Council of North America, where he works with food and beverage brand owners, local municipalities and communities, and other third parties such as recyclers and paper mills to increase the availability of carton recycling in the U.S. and Canada.
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