At Crystal Creamery, Modesto, Calif., working toward zero-waste goals for all of our production and depot facilities has been an important part of our overall sustainability efforts. Practices throughout the supply chain have been implemented by first reducing waste and then recovering any waste that is generated. This is practiced by using all waste streams for the maximum use according to the food recovery pyramid, whether it is for donation of product for animal feed or sending to an anaerobic digester for conversion to energy.

However, reducing waste has to go beyond our own facilities in order to have a true impact. Crystal Creamery works to educate consumers not only about our efforts, but also about what they can do as consumers. One of the easiest things consumers can do is to recycle the products they purchase and consume.

Keeping consumers informed

We start by educating consumers about the sustainability and recyclability of our packages. Crystal Creamery milk products, for example, can be packaged in either paper cartons or plastic bottles.

Cartons have always been encouraged for re-use in school projects — adding seeds and soil for a plant starter or cutting out a hole and adding bird seed to make a bird feeder. While carton recycling has existed in the United States for more than 20 years, it has not been widespread until recently.

Cartons have grown in popularity. Besides milk, they are used to package juice, soups, broths, coconut water and even wine. The infrastructure to recycle cartons also has grown. In 2009, only 18% of U.S. households had access to carton recycling. Now, more than half (55%) can recycle cartons through their local curbside programs – and this number continues to increase.

Once the product is consumed and the carton recycled, paper mills use the fiber to make paper products such as tissue, paper towels and writing paper. Additionally, some companies use whole cartons to make green building materials, such as wallboard, sheathing, ceiling tiles and backerboard.

Crystal Creamery recognizes that our consumers want to feel good about the products they are purchasing and, more than ever, they are expecting the brands they purchase to actively help increase the recycling of their packages. A survey conducted by the Carton Council of North America found that 86% of consumers expect food and beverage companies to actively help increase the recycling of their packages.

Raising awareness about recyclability

The 205% growth in carton recycling access is the result of collaboration led by the Carton Council. Formed in 2009, the Carton Council is committed to building a sustainable infrastructure for carton recycling nationwide and works toward their continual goal of improving access to carton recycling throughout the United States and increasing the number of cartons that get recycled.

Last year, Crystal Creamery joined the Carton Council’s network created for companies and brands, called the “Carton Recycling Champions.” As part of the network, we have been working to raise awareness about the recyclability of cartons to our consumers. We receive current industry information and updates about carton recycling, as well as materials to help us spread the word to our consumers and encourage them to recycle the cartons they consume.

As an industry, our priorities should include more than just producing the best dairy products (although that still is the No. 1 priority). It is our responsibility to ensure our products are packaged sustainably and that we work toward supporting the proper infrastructure for recycling the packaging of our products so that consumers are knowledgeable about their recyclability, and are able to recycle them.

We should work together as a food and beverage community to bring sustainable practices everywhere we serve. To learn more about the Carton Council and how you can get involved in supporting carton recycling as part of your sustainability efforts, visit Imagine the impact we can make together.

Tiffany Abend is corporate sustainability manager with Crystal Creamery. She can be reached at Crystal Creamery ( is the largest privately owned dairy in California. It produces a full line of dairy products, including fluid, cottage cheese, sour cream, ice cream, powder and butter.