Person pouring orange juice from a drinks carton into a glass

What to do with food and drink cartons?

15 Nov 21 2 minute read

Food and drinks cartons might appear to be cardboard on first look but there are plastics and foil in there too to help keep foodstuff fresh.

Just because they have different layers, doesn’t mean they can’t be recycled. Find out your options below. 

Recycling facilities exist

Household recycling collections

Some local authorities in Scotland accept washed and squashed cartons in the kerbside recycling bins. These include drinks cartons for items such as fruit juice or milk and for those for foods such as soup cartons. If you’re not sure about your area, check using the recycling locator to find out where to recycle your cartons. Read more about packaging labels.

Laminated or foil food pouches typically used for pet foods, coffee or baby food are not usually accepted in household recycling collections. However, some brands of pouches can be recycled into new products through TerraCycle.

Recycling facilities exist

Household waste recycling centre (HWRC)

Cartons can be recycled at household waste recycling centres – look out for the ‘widely recycled at recycling points’ symbol on the packaging. At the household waste recycling centre, look for the dedicated carton recycling area.

How are they recycled?

Baled cartons are dropped into a pulper – think similar to a giant domestic food mixer and you get the idea - filled with water and pulped for 20 minutes. This splits apart the layers of the packaging, allowing the aluminium foil and polyethylene to be separated from the paper fibres which are recovered to make new paper products.

The non-fibre remainder can be used in a number of new products including garden furniture and roofing materials.

Where are cartons recycled?

The UK’s only beverage carton recycling facility was opened in September 2013 in Stainland, near Halifax, West Yorkshire.

The plant can recycle up to 40% (25,000 tonnes) of the cartons manufactured for the UK market each year. Watch this video to learn more about the recycling process at this facility.

Recycling is constantly evolving and changing so check back for updates or try our recycling locator to find out what you can recycle at home and where you can recycle or pass on unwanted items in your local area.