Re-using and recycling egg cartons

First published July 2011, last updated March 2013

A common household waste item is the egg carton – it’s waste that in many cases doesn’t need to be taking space in landfill.

According to data from the American egg board; in 2011, 247.8 eggs per person were consumed in the USA (egg in shell and in products).

It’s a lot of eggs and while not all are transported in the egg cartons we see in the supermarket; it would still work out to be many millions of cartons each year being discarded.

What are egg cartons made of?

An egg carton may be made from plastics such as Styrofoam or from recycled paper and molded pulp. One way to make your egg consumption a little more environmentally friendly is to ensure you buy eggs in paper based packaging as styrofoam is difficult to recycle.

Recycling egg cartons

If the eggs you buy are in plastic packaging that isn’t styrofoam; look for a triangle with a number inside it stamped on the packaging. This is a plastic resin code and depending on the number, it may be possible to place this packaging in your recycling bin.

Even though the paper based version of the packaging is biodegradable, when thrown in with your general household rubbish it will likely wind up in landfill where the decomposition process takes a lot longer and take up valuable space.

Additionally, as the waste in landfill is buried, decomposition occurs in an anaerobic environment, which is one without oxygen. Microbes that thrive in anaerobic conditions give off potent greenhouse gases such as methane as they digest material. Methane has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 62 times that of carbon dioxide.

Instead of going into your general rubbish bin, paper based egg cartons should be put into your recycling bin; but given the nature of their construction, they also break down very quickly in compost piles – so you can use them to help benefit your garden.

Egg cartons also make for tasty worm food. If you have a worm farm, soak the cartons in water for a while and feed them to the little critters – they’ll make short work of the cartons. On a related point, egg shells are also great in worm farms as the shell provides grit to help the worms digest organic waste materials.

Other uses for egg cartons

Egg cartons don’t have to be waste – there are other ways to use both the paper and plastic forms. Here are a few ideas.

– Inquire with your local primary/pre-schools if they need cartons for craft projects. I still remember an alligator I made with an egg carton when I was a very young lad and using the cartons in class as a type of paint palette. Art departments also use the cartons for papier mache projects as paper based cartons are basically just papier mache themselves.

– Use for craft projects at home for your own children – there’s a stack of ideas here.

– Use the cartons as seedling starters – plastic egg cartons can also be used in this application.

– Handy for organizing small items such as nuts, bolts and screws.

– Use as packing materials when shipping goods.

– As a way of storing delicate Xmas tree bauble decorations.

– My brother was an avid golfer and used egg cartons for storing golf balls.

– Plastic egg cartons can be used as trays for making ice cubes.

– Transporting hard boiled eggs to picnics.

– If you have neighbors or a local farm with egg-laying chickens; they might greatly appreciate your egg cartons – and perhaps may even give you some free eggs in exchange.

Making further use of egg cartons is just one aspect of making our egg consumption a little more environmentally friendly. How the eggs themselves are produced is an important issue from an environmental and animal welfare viewpoint – and not all “free range” eggs come from truly free range birds.