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Barnyard Buddies

Are Paper Or Recycled Plastic Cartons Better For the Environment?

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A question that we hear from time to time is: “I love your eggs and your commitment to animal welfare and the environment, but why do you use plastic egg cartons? Isn’t that worse for the environment?”

It’s an excellent question. We’ve all come to see plastic as bad. It’s derived from a non-renewable source (oil), it doesn’t decompose for a very long time, and these days, a lot of it is winding into the oceans (see Pacific Garbage Patch and Microbeads Pollution). So it’s understandable that it has a bad reputation.

On the other hand, the molded pulp cartons and the polystyrene foam cartons are not environmental bargains either, for many of the same reasons. So what’s a well-meaning person to do?

We asked Quantis, a Canadian research company specializing in environmental impact of products, to do a complete Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Egg Cartons for us in 2012.

Quantis looked across the raw material sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, and end of life/recycling aspects for RPET (our recycled PET clear package), virgin PET, Recycled Molded Pulp (RMP) and Polystyrene (commonly known as styrofoam). They scored that as a total Carbon/Climate Change footprint score based on all of those life stages. They also scored them on the basis of Human Health, Ecosystem Quality, and Resource Depletion measures.

The RPET carton that we use was determined to be superior, or vastly superior, to both the Molded Pulp and Polystyrene as a whole, and across all of the individual life stages, with the one exception that it had a slightly higher manufacturing impact than recycled pulp. It is worth noting that the worst option, was typically the PET plastic made from virgin plastic. That’s because of the high amount of fossil fuels required both as energy and raw material in its production. This is what large 2-liter soda bottles are made from (so think about that the next time you’re considering buying soda). We take the recycled material from those containers to make our cartons. The tri-fold PET also has an important consumer benefit in that it provides the best protection for the eggs while allowing you to see the unbroken eggs without opening the carton in the store.

Once used, our cartons can then be placed right back in the recycling stream for another trip through the system. Paper pulp can also be recycled. Styrofoam all goes to the landfill to wait for the end of time.

So in total, while we wish we could sell our eggs in wooden boxes or wicker baskets that were re-used over an over, we feel as though we’ve arrived at the best possible solution we can for the time being. We ask that you always recycle your Nellie’s Free Range cartons after use and we can continue to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible. And thank you for bringing our eggs home in a re-usable canvas bag as well.

Comments

ChrisJanuary 17, 2019

Well I don't know but in the past month I have purchased 2 packets of the 18 count brown eggs and while I inspected them carefully in the market for broken eggs and didn't see any I found each packet did have 2-3 cracked eggs when I went to use them at home later on. Did I do it? Did the store? Who knows. But I rarely have this issue with the cardboard boxes, they seem to cushion the eggs better in my opinion. They weren't broken to the point of tossing them in the trash, I poured a few drops of water on them and let them sit and they came unstuck from the plastic. Don't know if it's considered safe but I scrambled them and didn't get sick or die.

Nellie's

We're so sorry to hear that you've had some cracked eggs, Chris. It's tough to say for sure, but our best guess is that these were hairline cracks that allowed some of the egg white to seep out, dry, and adhere the shells to the carton. We never recommend consuming cracked eggs because they're vulnerable to outside bacteria. If you don't mind sending us an email at [email protected], we would love to send you a couple coupons so that you can get your next few cartons on us.

TomJanuary 15, 2019

Who makes the carton and what is thier source of post consumer plastic?

Nellie's

Thanks for your question, Tom! We work with a company called Pactiv to produce the cartons, and they source recycled materials from all over the world actually, so there's no one specific location we could point to. If you'd like to look into their company a bit more, please feel free to have a look through their website (https://www.pactiv.com/Pactiv.htm), and feel free to reach out with any other questions you may have!

DorothyJanuary 11, 2019

Hello. I came to your website to read about your plastic cartons. As an individual who never uses plastic water bottles or straws I am sorry to see your eggs in plastic cartons and although I understand you believe they leave a smaller carbon imprint, I won’t be buying your eggs in the future until you use paper cartons. Thank you for such a great egg.

Nellie's

Hello Dorothy, thank you for taking the time to reach out to us. We understand that for many people, plastic may not be a first choice, but we feel (and studies have shown) that we're doing right by reusing what is unfortunately already out there. Our new take-back program is going a step further to make sure these cartons are not being dumped into our environment and are being recycled and reused instead. We hope that there will be less plastic in future years, but while it's out there we're doing our best to ensure it is being reused rather than tossed in the garbage. We would be happy to send a copy of a research study that showed the comparison of our RPET cartons beside pulp cartons if it might be of interest. Thank you for the heartfelt feedback, we will make sure to pass it along to our team.

TonyJanuary 03, 2019

I'm not overly concerned about environmental impact of most thing thever Earth is resilient and will take care of itself. The last concern I have is for this packagin I feel like most people that go to the effort of buying your products will be the type that make sure it gets recycled. I myself see it as a superior package and I intend to save a few to reuse as I sometimes buy farm direct and they use the paper boxes which are not very good protection.

Nellie's

Hi Tony, we're thankful for your message and are glad to hear that you are recycling as well as reusing the cartons. Thanks for the feedback and for supporting our small family farms!

SharonJanuary 02, 2019

I wish I could agree with the trifold plastic egg carton. There's no viable recycling system for all our plastic. I may just remove eggs from my diet. Hate to give up Nellie's eggs, but I have to draw the line somewhere. I want my kids to inherit this planet and be able to exist.

Nellie's

We completely understand your sentiments, Sharon. Like you, we want to see a world where no new plastic is being manufactured. Right now, our cartons are taking plastic water bottles out of the waste stream, and in our view, that's at least a small victory as we all work towards a plastic-free society.

Diane DumiganJanuary 02, 2019

Plastic 'berg chokes Indonesian river A crisis of plastic waste in Indonesia has become so acute that the army has been called in to help. www.bbc.com Your plastics are not recycled in Key West, Florida we are a very vulnerable chain of islands and must do everything to protect our future from becoming like Indonesia. PLEASE HELP by making compactable cartons.

Nellie's

Hi Diane, we thank you for the article. We know it's not a perfect solution in a changing world, but we're doing our best to keep abreast of this unfolding issue. Because our cartons are made from recycled materials rather than new plastic, we do feel that some blame should be placed on these companies that are making the plastic to begin with. If they didn't create it, we would not be able to use it for our cartons. We do have some good news on this forefront. We have introduced a recycling program for consumers who are unable to recycle the cartons in their communities. Please send us a message at [email protected] and we'd be glad to get that information to you and get those cartons back. We are thankful for your message.

Diane DumiganJanuary 02, 2019

But plastic NEVER decamped and is now in our food chain. Plastics were sent to China for recycling but now they are no longer taking plastics. Please start using recycled cardboard Never Styrofoam. I’ll have to stop buying your eggs until you make the change. I hope you do and SOON.

Nellie's

Hi Diane, We really appreciate your insight and thoughtful suggestions. It's true that this is a complicated issue for which there is no perfect solution (yet). We are always open to change and as we continue keeping up with the global and national recycling industry, we'll keep carbon footprint, accessibility of recycling, and all these other important factors in mind. Thank you for the article and feedback.

MalloryJanuary 02, 2019

I came to your website to address this. Thank you for sharing. Perhaps you will sell your eggs in bulk so those of us interested in further reducing our waste can simply refill the sturdy plastic containers you’ve equipped us with..? I would sure love that! Mallory from Sacramento

Nellie's

Hi Mallory, thank you for the feedback. We are always open to change and as we continue keeping up with the global and national recycling industry, we'll keep carbon footprint, accessibility of recycling, and all these other important factors in mind. Thank you for the suggestion!

David and Marian Lewis WohlsenDecember 29, 2018

First of all, thank you for being here and for offering a sane alternative to the inhumanity of factory farms. We always recycle the cartons and you should know that I always inspect the eggs despite the clear carton. I think all we can do is the best practice and change as that changes. Again, thank you for all you do - we love your eggs and the hens, too!

Nellie's

Thank you for your support David and Marian!

SarahDecember 20, 2018

We do recycle our cartons. However, I find myself reaching for the ones that come in paper more often as I can compost that. At my local store, milk is sold in glass that we must pay a deposit on and then get it back when we return the bottles. I assume there is not a practical way to do a similar thing with eggs?

Nellie's

Hi Sarah, this is something we've been thinking about for a long time, especially as we continue striving for the most sustainable option for our cartons. Unfortunately, FDA and USDA food safety standards prohibit this type of reusable container for commercially-produced eggs at this time - but that doesn't mean we won't consider something like this if regulations change in the future!

Peggy December 13, 2018

Thanks for taking the time to explain all this. Lately (Dec 2018) I am seeing reports of so much recycling ending up in the garbage because there aren't enough companies that will take the recycled goods for re-use. So it's great that you're taking on recycling from your customers - but I don't know that this is an answer to the problem. With this in mind and considering the article above - it seems the most sensitive packaging would be the recycled pulp. Have you considered switching to that type of carton. I'd much rather have to open a carton to check the eggs than worry about whether the carton is going to end up in landfill or worse. This is an ever evolving issue I know. Thank you!

Nellie's

We really appreciate your insight and thoughtful suggestions, Peggy. It's true that this is a complicated issue for which there is no perfect solution (yet). We are always open to change and as we continue keeping up with the global and national recycling industry, we'll keep carbon footprint, accessibility of recycling, and all these other important factors in mind.

Helena AlexanderDecember 02, 2018

Good night can I get some coupons please thanks

Nellie's

Hi Helena! You can find our promotions and coupons here: https://www.nelliesfreerange.com/promotions-and-coupons.

Carole ThompsonDecember 02, 2018

I must admit I was concerned about the plastic that winds up in the ocean. I met a lady from New Zealand who studies oceanographic environment and she says do not not use sea salt, because it has microscopic plastic molecules. Aside from the plastic carton, what about the full color printing inset, which is printed on both sides. The panel on the side is the only marketing billboard that faces the consumer when the package is on the shelf. The top panel is practically useless, but has a lot of ink coverage. Where is this printed? Printing ink is nasty stuff. I'm sure your printer uses water-based ink, but there's still pigment involved. Your design has a lot of high saturation colors. It's something to think about, since you are concerned about the planet.

Nellie's

Thank you for these thoughtful questions, Carole. Our carton inserts are printed in a few different facilities, but we can tell you that all of the ink is food grade. We love being able to showcase our farmers and their beautiful homes on our cartons, but we completely understand your concern about ink usage. We'll be sure to pass your feedback along to the rest of the team for consideration as we continue changing and updating our carton design.

GregDecember 01, 2018

We are not able to recycle PET molded cartons where we live (northern Virginia). We are told that any molded PET that is put in recycling bins end up at a landfill since our recycling is sent to a Pennsylvania MRF. Do you know what molded PET can't be recycled? We are also told to put all molded plastics into the garbage as it will stay local and be burned in the incinerator to create electricity and steam. I suppose that's better than ending up in a PA landfill, no?

Nellie's

Hi Greg, we're so sorry to hear that you aren't able to recycle our cartons in your area. #1 plastics (like our RPET cartons) are one of the most widely-accepted types, but this can change from county to county and state to state. We'd be happy to take our cartons off your hands and ensure that they get recycled and are kept out of the waste stream. Do you mind sending us an email at [email protected]?

Carol HuntNovember 20, 2018

Unfortunately we are no longer able to recycle your plastic cartons in the Cleveland area. I am told it’s because there are no more buyers (China) for this type of plastic. However, I will save these plastic trays and reuse them as little greenhouses for starting seeds in the spring. Another re-use suggestion you may want to add to your website. Plenty of how-to links searchable on-line.

Nellie's

That's a fantastic idea, Carol. We have a carton takeback program in the works, so if you're at all interested in mailing those cartons back to us, please send us an email at [email protected] and we'll see what we can do to help!

mike fischettiNovember 19, 2018

also seems recycled molded pulp (RMP)is sourced from materials that are definitely and easily recycled --but for your purposes-- they are opaque

Nellie's

Thanks for the additional feedback, Mike! I'll make sure to pass along to our team here.

mike fischettiNovember 19, 2018

where is the recycle number on the plastic carton ''right back in the recycling stream'' we have multiple choices at our door step do they go in with the bottles and cans? or with the paper? or with the organics in other words your advice is nice but not specific but appreciate the effort and education hope you will get back to me - not optimistic \but we buy the eggs

Nellie's

Hi Mike! Typically the carton is stamped into the plastic itself, in the middle piece that is egg shaped, that goes over the eggs in the carton. Typically there is a stamp with a "1" inside of that. #1 cartons are recyclable with juice containers, soda containers, salad containers, and more. It is the most widely recycled plastic here in the United States. Hope that helps!

Benny LouiseNovember 19, 2018

I had to look up online to see if the cartons could be recycled. How come they aren't stamped with the recycle triangle???

Nellie's

Hi Benny! Typically the carton is stamped into the plastic itself, in the middle piece that is egg shaped, that goes over the eggs in the carton. Typically there is a stamp with a "1" inside of that. #1 cartons are recyclable with juice containers, soda containers, salad containers, and more. It is the most widely recycled plastic here in the United States. Hope that helps!

Diane S. November 04, 2018

Trying your eggs today !! I haven't been buying lately because cage free doesn't mean a thing ... guess because of the cost I'll eat less eggs but that's okay too .. happy the hens are happy too 😊 I rescue animals and go cat TNR, down in New Orleans

Nellie's

Hi Diane! We're happy to hear that you are enjoying our eggs but understand they may cost a bit more than cage free farms. We hope you'll take a peek on our promotions page for some coupons and offers which may help with this. Thanks for doing what you do to help rescue animals in need!

Beth M.October 31, 2018

I love your eggs and what your company stands for! I will continue to buy your eggs no matter what, but every time I attempt to print the 1.50$ coupon sent to my email it won’t allow me to do so, and says I’ve already printed my limit?

Nellie's

Thank you, Beth. We're honored to have your support of our small family farms!

Barbara CraneOctober 27, 2018

Your research is enlightening and your efforts at sustainability are much appreciated. As someone who has purchased eggs from family or small farm stands where cartons are re-used, I wonder if it would be feasible for you if users were to return your egg cartons at the stores so they could be picked up by your drivers, and reused.

Nellie's

Your kind words mean a lot to us, Barbara. Although we unfortunately cannot reuse cartons due to food safety regulations, we have a "take-back" program launching very soon. This program will allow folks like you to save up their cartons and mail them back to us. From there, they will be used by our carton manufacturing facilities for new products. Though it's by no means a perfect solution, we hope that this program will continue to keep our cartons out of landfills as much as possible!

Kathy RudkinOctober 10, 2018

Thank you for all the care and concern you’ve shown in this matter.

Nellie's

Thanks for taking the time to read about the thought and research behind our decision, Kathy!

M. CarrollOctober 08, 2018

I love your eggs and packaging principles, however each time I purchase the 18 egg carton, there are always1-3 broken eggs. This is not visually apparent, but each of those 1-3 are stuck to the bottom of the cell. This has never happened with the 12 egg carton.

Nellie's

We're so sorry for any frustration that our 18-count cartons have caused. Do you mind sending us an email at [email protected] so that we can look into this and get you a few replacement cartons?

Mickel Knight October 08, 2018

I do sustainability work for the packaging industry. Thank you for looking beyond the easy option and assessing many variables when choosing your egg carton material. One of my sayings is that in sustainability, your gut instinct on what to do is almost always wrong. Most people go with their guts. Thank you for going deeper than that and being analytical.

Nellie's

This comment means so much to us, Mickel. We recognize that the sustainability discussion is too often dominated by opinions and assumptions, so it was incredibly important to us to carry out some real research before making a decision. Thank you for supporting our efforts!