The environmental impact of a product increasingly plays an important role in whether conscious consumers choose one product over the other. Shoppers are demanding sustainable goods and expect corporations to take the lead in making it happen.

For food and beverage companies, the message is loud: Consumers want packaging that is convenient and meets their lifestyle, while being environmentally friendly and easily recycled.

Cartons have long been considered a highly sustainable packaging format that can be recycled into tissue, paper towels, office and writing paper, and even building materials.

Today, cartons can be recycled in most communities across the country, much like other mainstream recyclable containers. Earlier this year, access to food and beverage carton recycling reached 60 percent of U.S. households. More than 70 million households in 12,500 communities are able to recycle cartons through residential curbside or drop-off programs.

Reaching that milestone means cartons can carry the standard “Please Recycle’’ logo, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s green guidelines.

Carton Profile Enhanced

This achievement has been a huge focus for the carton industry, one that took a lot of work and collaboration across the entire recycling value chain. Being considered a mainstream recyclable material further enhances the environmental profile of cartons. Lightweight, compact and made mainly from a renewable material—paper—cartons are an environmentally sound packaging choice for food and beverage products.

In the eyes of consumers, recycling continues to be a critical sign of a product’s sustainability. On-pack communication is by far one of the most important channels to communicate that product’s environmental profile. That’s why, since reaching and announcing the 60 percent access milestone in January, the Carton Council of North America has been working to promote the usage of the recycling logo on cartons.

Clearly identifying cartons as recyclable helps brands meet consumers’ demand for recyclable packaging but, more important, drives actual recycling. Last year, The Carton Council commissioned a national survey which found that more than two-thirds of consumers (67 percent) assume a package is not recyclable if it doesn’t have a recycling logo or language on it. Furthermore, the survey revealed that a majority of consumers (57 percent) look to a product’s packaging first to determine if it is recyclable before they turn to other sources.

Consumers don’t just want brands to offer sustainable options, they expect it. According to the Carton Council’s survey, nearly all consumers (91 percent) expect food and beverage companies to be actively involved in efforts to increase the recycling of their packages. However, consumers are prepared to reward those efforts. A 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report found that 45 percent of respondents said they buy items from companies known for being environmentally friendly, and nearly two-thirds (66 percent) said they are willing to pay more for sustainable products, up from 55 percent in 2014 and 50 percent in 2013.

Consumers Go Online

Understanding that a brand’s website is the second place consumers go to search for information about recyclability of a product’s package, companies are encouraged to add carton recycling information to their website as well as other marketing materials and social media channels.

Efforts to make carton recycling mainstream were led by the Carton Council of North America, a group comprised of the nation’s leading carton manufacturers. It was formed in 2009 with the goal of growing carton recycling by building the infrastructure for recycling of cartons. At the time, only 18 percent of U.S. households had access to carton recycling.

While the ability to add the standard recycling logo to cartons marks a major achievement, our work is far from finished. In our mission to advance sustainable carton recycling in the United States, we will continue to work with all stakeholders in the carton recycling value chain to further increase household access and drive the recovery and recycling of cartons.