Poudre School District joins milk carton recycling efforts, saves money

Poudre School District has teamed up with the City of Fort Collins Environmental Services Department on a three-fold task to protect the environment, save local schools money and teach students a valuable lesson in recycling.

Gable-top containers, such as the ones containing milk and orange juice, have been around since the early 1900s and have had limited local recyclability. That is, until last April, when city officials teamed up with local trash haulers to make paper carton recycling a city-wide option. This school year, those same officials teamed up with PSD to make carton recycling a district-wide priority.

Schools, businesses and residents alike pay to have trash hauled to the landfill. The paper carton recycling program results in less trash that needs to be hauled away, resulting in less cost.
In the United States alone, the average elementary student drinks 180 cartons of milk and juice every school year, according to a study conducted by the Carton Council. That’s five pounds of cartons per student per year. When an elementary school with 400 students participates in the paper carton recycling program, they can save 2,070 pounds of cartons from local landfill disposal.

According to PSD Environmental/Safety Coordinator John Holcombe, nearly all schools within the District participate in carton recycling. And, although Poudre School District recycles other materials, the effect of adding paper carton recycling is significant.

“Last year we generated 1.8 million milk cartons and almost 700,000 juice cartons. With any new program, it takes time to get full compliance, or buy in. This is a fairly new program so we expect it will take time to get to 100 percent recycling of cartons,” says Holcombe.

Holcombe says that the good news is the elementary students currently follow instructions well and are successfully recycling their cartons. Eventually those students will be in high school and at that point, recycling their cartons will be second nature to them.

Later this month, the District will complete its solid waste audit. “Due to carton recycling we have increased our recycling service at all of the schools and once I get the audit data we will probably be able to significantly reduce our trash service,” says Holcombe.

Last year, PSD’s diversion rate was 39 percent. Holcombe expects carton recycling to increase the District’s diversion rate by at least 5 percent.

According to City of Fort Collins Senior Environmental Planner Susie Gordon, “This is a very common container that almost every household uses, so this program is going to benefit a lot of people. At the risk of generalizing, families with young children are going to be able to divert even more of their discards than before into the recycling bin instead of the trash because of the recyclability of milk cartons and juice boxes.”

Gordon says that if the public participates in recycling various types of paper cartons, Fort Collins residents can generate at least 450 new tons of recycled material. This represents a six percent increase in the volumes of single-stream recyclable material saved from landfills.

“Saving money is important, but we also have our “upstream” benefits at the manufacturing level,” says Gordon.

Recycling paper cartons saves pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere, Gordon says. It also saves paper manufacturers on the use of virgin materials. Lastly, it saves water because it takes less water to recover these materials than to make them from virgin material.

“Plus, it’s not just schools and businesses that can participate. Residents can too,” says Gordon.

For more information, visit www.fcgov.com/recycling, www.recyclecartons.com, or contact your local trash service provider.

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