free range hens article image

Barnyard Buddies

Are Paper Or Recycled Plastic Cartons Better For the Environment?


Share icon Share

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.


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


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!