There are more ways than ever to connect with customers and consumers. While packaging is certainly not a new way to communicate a brand’s attributes, companies are realizing the value behind using it to immediately display their commitment to sustainability. Consumers look at information on the packaging first to understand how to dispose of it after they’ve consumed the product. 
This is according to research we recently commissioned to better understand consumer attitudes and behaviors around recycling. The research revealed that an overwhelming majority (90 percent) of consumers believe recycling is important and people should do what they can to recycle. More important, 91 percent of consumers expect food and beverage brands to actively help increase recycling of their packages. 
As head of communications for the Carton Council of North America and vice president of communications for U.S. and Canada, Tetra Pak Inc., a large part of my focus is to ensure that brands, retailers and consumers understand that food and beverage cartons are recyclable and encourage their recycling in areas with carton recycling programs. Thanks to the many benefits cartons provide, their presence has been growing across many grocery store aisles including juice, soups, nutritional drinks, non-dairy alternatives and even wine. It is therefore critical that we make sure a package’s end of life is properly addressed. That’s what the Carton Council strives to do every day — grow the recycling of food and beverage cartons in the U.S. and Canada. Formed in 2009 by carton manufacturers Elopak, Evergreen Packaging, SIG Combibloc and Tetra Pak Inc., as well as associate member Weyerhaeuser, our approach in growing access to carton recycling includes working with paper mills, material recovery facilities (MRFs), local and state governments as well as other recycling stakeholders. Today, 58 percent of all U.S. households can recycle their food and beverage cartons, a 222 percent increase since we started.
While consumers have been consistently reminded to recycle their aluminum cans, plastic bottles and paper products since residential recycling programs began, food and beverage cartons are still considered a newer recyclable package in the U.S. With 89 percent of adults saying they regularly have food and beverage cartons in their home, we have an opportunity to make sure consumers not only have the ability to recycle these cartons but also are educated about the recyclability of these packages. Food and beverage brands and retailers can play a critical role in this process. 
In 2014, we formed the “Carton Recycling Champions” network to work with like-minded companies and brands that share our desire to improve carton recycling. Currently comprised of 21 companies, these members are committed to educating consumers about the recyclability of their product packaging. Provided with information and resources, these companies help make sure that people who buy their products know the cartons are recyclable. 
WhiteWave Foods is a prime example of what it means to be a champion. They play an active role in the consumer education campaigns we deploy across different markets in the U.S. While campaigns in areas that are new to carton recycling focus on awareness building, in many other regions the campaigns engage consumers, motivating them to recycle more cartons and become ambassadors that encourage others to do so as well. A prime example of this is our Southern California campaign.   
Carton packaging alone plays a key role in communicating recyclability and sustainability messages to consumers. Having recycling information on the pack goes a long way to ensure that the package actually gets recycled. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, the package itself is often the first place consumers look for recycling information. In fact, our research showed that 57 percent of consumers said they would look to the product’s packaging first to learn if it was recyclable. 
More important, 67 percent of consumers would assume a package — carton or other formats — is not recyclable it if it does not have a recycling symbol or language on it. This proves just how important it is to include clear recycling language on packages so we can make sure valuable cartons do not end up in a landfill. 
While the packaging remains the most important vehicle to communicate recyclability, our research showed that 28 percent of adults look to the company website to determine if the product’s package is recyclable, adding to the importance of ensuring that brands’ websites include updated information about recycling.  
As an added bonus, the research revealed that 58 percent of consumers said their loyalty to a food or beverage product is impacted by that brand’s engagement with environmental causes. This seems to indicate that sustainability has been resonating more deeply with consumers in regard to their purchasing decisions.
For the Carton Council, increasing the access and convenience of carton recycling for Americans, while helping make it viable and beneficial for the whole carton recycling value chain, helps everyone. Additionally, educating consumers about carton recycling typically serves as an added reminder of the importance to recycle in general. 
With the support of retailers, brands and other stakeholders in this value chain, we are confident that we can achieve great results to the benefit of food and beverage companies, communities, the recycling industry and, most of all, our consumers.