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Are Paper or Recycled Plastic Cartons Better for the Environment?

When deciding on new packaging for our organic eggs in 2012, we wanted to know which type of carton would reflect our B Corp values and dedication to the environment. So we worked with a third-party to conduct a life cycle anaylsis of the options available on the market. They found (what is now our) RPET plastic to be "vastly superior" to pulp. Read on to learn more.

Words by: Jesse Laflamme

A question that we get a lot usually goes like this: “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 home runs either, for many of the same reasons. So what’s a well-meaning person to do?

We wanted to know. So we worked with a third-party to conduct a life cycle anaylsis of the options available on the market.

We hired Quantis, a Canadian research company specializing in the 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.

We went with the most environmentally-friendly packaging based off real data.

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 – it has 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.

While we wish we could sell our eggs in wooden boxes or wicker baskets that were re-used over and 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 Pete and Gerry’s 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 reusable canvas bag as well.

COMMENTS

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J Braun

November 29, 2018

Please send me your third party study on the comparison between RPET and paper pulp use. I have found many such studies do not take the full life-cycles of plastics into account, that they are not infinitely recyclable, nor first-time recycled plastic's tendency to end up as fleece clothing, TREX deck flooring, or other unlikely and difficult-to-be-recycled items. Nor do studies go into the need to control air pollution and all the energy that involves, along the way. Our recycling used to be sent to China. Now our county is struggling to figure out what to do with it and we have to pay for the "service." I can and do compost paper pulp in my back yard, which becomes nutrition for the planet. I appreciate your intentions, work and products, but do not want to buy more plastic, regardless of what is wrapped inside.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

November 30, 2018

Hi there! We'd be glad to email this to you. Would you mind sending us an email to: [email protected] ? We'd be glad to send the study your way. Thanks!

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C Heroux

November 27, 2018

Why not reuse the sale package that se could bring back to thé store

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1 Reply

[email protected]

November 28, 2018

That's a great suggestion! Unfortunately, food safety regulations prevent us from reusing our cartons, so although we wish we could, it isn't possible at this time.

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Matthew Plies

November 21, 2018

I believe that my recycling service in Portland, Oregon would consider these containers to be clamshells and would tell me to put them in the trash...not the recycling. Which would make recycled pulp a better choice for mine and most recycling areas. Even if they were to go in the recycling stream, we keep hearing recently that most of the plastics end up in landfills in China or elsewhere. What do I do?

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1 Reply

[email protected]

November 22, 2018

We completely understand your predicament, Matthew. We're launching a takeback program for this very reason; to ensure that our cartons get recycled. Though we're still finalizing the program, we might be able to help you out if you have any of our cartons laying around. Do you mind sending us an email at [email protected]?

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Dolores Santoro

November 16, 2018

Thank you for taking the time to clear the confusion regarding plastic vs cardboard, styrofoam, and PET plastic, and to look for RPET (Recycled PET) instead.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

November 17, 2018

Our pleasure, Dolores. As a B Corp, we wanted to base our decision on research. Thank you for taking the time to read about what we found!

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Robert

November 11, 2018

You have not provided any real evidence or explanation why RPET is better for the environment than molded pulp. The latter uses no chemicals, creates a market for recycled cardboard, and is biodegradable. That seems a lot better and until you convince me otherwise I will avoid buying your eggs

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1 Reply

[email protected]

November 12, 2018

Hi Robert, we would be more than happy to send you a copy of our third-party study. Do you mind sending us an email at [email protected]?

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Nancy zi

November 07, 2018

Thank you! I visited your site to find out why on the plastic cartons as well. As I love and buy your eggs and was a bit stymied by the packaging, now I know. Nice website too. Nancy Zi, gold beach oregon

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1 Reply

[email protected]

November 08, 2018

Hi Nancy! We're so glad we could help to provide some information on our packaging and are delighted to hear that you are enjoying the website. Thanks for supporting our small family farms in Gold Beach, it's a lovely town, I've been there!

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Mike

November 07, 2018

You can add our county to your list of areas that will not accept your cartons for recycling. We have been saving them waiting for your mail back program to start but might soon have to look elsewhere for our eggs. Seeing the amount of plastic piling up after a few months brings home the negative aspect of the plastic. Our preference would be paper pulp.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

November 08, 2018

Hi Mike, we're still finalizing some logistics for the program but might be able to work something out for you this week so that we can take those cartons off your hands. Do you mind sending us an email at [email protected]?

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Susan Withers

November 05, 2018

This answered my question about the packaging. I'd like to add that I was surprised when I cracked open the first egg. I didn't expect such a fresh egg from the grocery store. I have raised chickens myself, and shop farmers markets. Your eggs are right up there with those.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

November 05, 2018

Hi Susan! We're so delighted to hear that you are enjoying our eggs and that you took the time to reach out to us here. We're thankful to have earned your praise and will let our small family farmers know how much their hard work is appreciated!

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Casie

October 18, 2018

Thanks for this article! My town has also just switched to recycling by shape and not number (only plastic bottles with the openings smaller than the bottom, odd) and I'm trying to figure out how to adjust my buying habits so I don't have to throw out any plastic. I would be THRILLED with a take-back program. Please keep us updated.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

October 19, 2018

We absolutely will, Casie!

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ALYSSA STARELLI

October 10, 2018

Portland OR Metro recycles plastic by shape NOT by number now, so it sounds like a NO according to this link. https://www.oregonmetro.gov/tools-living/garbage-and-recycling/recycling-home/plastic-recycling

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1 Reply

[email protected]

October 12, 2018

Thank you for letting us know about this, Alyssa. Though it sounds like your local recycling center will no longer take our cartons, all is not lost: we're in the process of a developing a "take back" program that will allow folks like you to save and mail their cartons back to us (free of charge) to be recycled. We'll certainly keep our consumers in the loop as we finalize the logistics, but it sounds like this program might be of use to you. Please let us know if we can answer any questions in the meantime.

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Rita cristman

October 08, 2018

I’m glad you explained about your cartons. I was very upset when my daughter bought your eggs because of the plastic I suggest you put that information on the very top of your egg cartons. These days people In the San Francisco Bay area are really trying to not buy anything in plastic so having an explanation right in front will help you guys. By the way the eggs are delicious. Most people would probably not go to your website to find out the truth so I’m hoping this will be helpful.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

October 10, 2018

We're really glad that the explanation helped you understand our decision, Rita. Thank you for taking the time to read about our cartons! We appreciate your feedback and will definitely look into including more information right on the paper inserts in the future.

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Tad M

October 02, 2018

It'd be nice if we could have access to the actual report so as to see the assumptions and calculations.

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2 Replies

Kevin

October 05, 2018

many plastics can no longer be recycled here In Eugene, Oregon. Can your container be?

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1 Reply

[email protected]

October 08, 2018

Hey Kevin, our cartons are considered a #1 plastic which is one of the most widely accepted types. If your local recycling facility accepts #1 plastics, then they should indeed accept our cartons. If you'd like us to give them a call, please feel free to drop us a line at [email protected] - we're happy to confirm with them!

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[email protected]

October 02, 2018

We would be happy to send a copy of the study your way, Tad! If you don't mind sending us an email at [email protected], we'll get that right out to you.

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Karoline Nelson

October 01, 2018

Not sure about something - you refer to the pulp cartons ending up in anaerobic landfills which I agree is a problem. Can’t you recycle the pulp ones with the mixed paper? If I have an option to buy eggs in cardboard boxes I always prefer it because I can recycle them that way (tearing off any parts that might be sullied by broken eggs, etc).

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1 Reply

[email protected]

October 01, 2018

Absolutely, Karoline! Both pulp cartons and our RPET cartons can and should be recycled. However, in the event that either type of carton ends up in a landfill, neither will decompose over time. Though this is something we wish could be avoided 100% of the time, it does happen, and creates a lose-lose situation for the pulp carton with a higher carbon footprint. We hope this helps clarify!

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Gregory T Sarafin

September 30, 2018

You are probably right, at least for the average person. However, I treasure pulp cartons as we recycle them immediately. During the winter, they are used to kindle the fireplace. In the summer, they start the charcoal in the grill. I buy your product exclusively when I shop in town, but when I do my monthly major trip (to Trader Joe) I stock up on eggs in the pulp cartons. (one concession, I think that your eggs are better!) I also wanted to tell you about my other 2 gripes. I prefer X-large or jumbo eggs. Yours are rare and hard to find. Today our local market had X-L's on sale and I bought 6 dozen. (I use 2-3 dozen/week). Occasionally (once out of 3 dozen, I find eggs with pock mark fractures that look as though they are possibly from processing machinery. I do not use them as as prefer my eggs soft boiled.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

October 01, 2018

We hear you, Gregory! Pulp cartons have many uses, and we completely understand why some folks might prefer them. Lots of our consumers have found that our cartons make really great storage containers for everything from holiday ornaments to office supplies, and they're perfect mini windowsill greenhouses. If there's anything we can do to get our extra large and jumbo eggs into more stores in your area, just give us a shout at [email protected] - we'd love to help!

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Beth S.

September 30, 2018

I am very glad you sent us the email today linking to the article about WHY you use the plastic cartons. It is something that I've wondered about (because it did seem inconsistent with your values). I am glad to know the rationale behind using plastic. I'm pleased that you did commission a comparative environmental impact study for the different types of egg cartons. (I made a point of checking the carton for the recycling # when I first started buying your eggs, & I make a point of recycling them). And of course I selected your eggs in the first place because I feel assured of how the chicks are raised that are the sources of your eggs.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

October 01, 2018

We're so glad that you found your way here, Beth. It sounds like you're a very environmentally-conscious and informed consumer, and we're so grateful for folks like you who encourage others to be the same way. Thank you for taking the time to read about all the research and thought that went into our carton design!

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Jennifer Lee

September 30, 2018

I will only buy your eggs and if the market has none left for the day, I come back later when they are back in stock. They are the best tasting eggs I have had in a long time. My great grandfather raised chickens and back then we never knew what an issue that raising them free range with a good diet would be...it was the norm for him. The yolks are golden, not yellow, and I taste no aftertaste I can tell the difference I make sure to recycle your packaging, but I feel compelled to let you know that on two occasions I found eggs that were cracked within the package. It did not deter me from buying again as the taste is that remarkable. I love your eggs and gladly have paid more for them. They make an excellent omelette and scrambled they are light and fluffy.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

October 01, 2018

Thank you so much for the kind words, Jennifer. It truly means the world to us that you go to such great lengths to purchase our eggs at your local market. We're so sorry that you found a few cracked eggs, as we designed our cartons with this very issue in mind. If you don't mind sending us an email at [email protected] we would love to send you a few coupons to replace that carton!

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Kim Apperson

September 29, 2018

I love your eggs, but was concerned about the plastic cartons. I am very happy to see that you have spent so much time and effort to address packaging. We are in a crisis with plastic recycling, as many of your commenters have noted, and of course it is the current hot topic in the news. Until we as a society can move beyond our addiction to plastic we must do our best to minimize its use. Can you re-use the plastic cartons? I would be very happy to send you a box of my used ones every few months or so if you will re-use them vs. recycle them. I do not trust that #1 clamshells will actually be recycled anywhere in the near future.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

October 01, 2018

Hi Kim! Thanks for your thoughtful comment. For sanitation reasons, we unfortunately cannot reuse our cartons, but they can definitely be recycled and made into new products. We know that it's on all of us as individuals to recycle, and we believe it's our responsibility to continue educating consumers and encouraging everyone to take that extra step when it comes to our packaging (and all recyclable materials).

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Elizabeth McCommon

September 22, 2018

Your eggs are the best I've been able to buy since I raised my own years ago. We can no longer recycle any plastic, however, that is not #1 or #2. Your containers now go in the land fill. Please consider using pulp-paper. Whoops! Found the #1 finally. Sorry. Still like the thought of the paper pulp containers. Wonderful eggs!

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1 Reply

[email protected]

September 24, 2018

Hi Elizabeth! It sounds like because they're a #1 plastic, your local recycling facility will indeed accept them (apologies if the #1 symbol was a bit difficult to find!). We appreciate the love and great feedback!

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Beth

September 19, 2018

I am more concerned with chemicals and microbeads ending up in the ocean & water sources, than the carbon footprint. Seems like we can find a better carton option.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

September 22, 2018

Hi Beth! We understand where you're coming from, but we do think that considering our carbon footprint is very important when looking at overall environmental impact of our cartons. We're committed to limiting carbon dioxide emissions because of the serious threats that climate change poses. It is also critical to keep chemicals and microbeads out of our oceans as well as our water sources, so we hope to continue to encourage all consumers to properly dispose of our cartons by recycling them. We're committed to innovative package design and will continue to research how to make the best packaging for our eggs.

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Liz Gallo

September 19, 2018

I appreciate the information, but the assumption is that your packaging will be recycled once it gets to a facility. The numbers don’t bear this out. A minimal amount of the plastic put in to home recycling ever actually gets recycled. I would still by your eggs more often if they were in pulp packaging.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

September 22, 2018

Hi Liz, thank you for taking the time to comment. Yes, we use 100% post-consumer recycled plastic to create our cartons, which puts the plastic surplus to good use. When they arrive at the facility, these number one plastics can be recycled with little trouble. Unfortunately, pulp packaging will not biodegrade in a landfill either and most consumers do not have the ability to properly dispose of those types of packages so that they will actually biodegrade. Our hope is that consumers will recycle their cartons and they will be properly dealt with at the facility.

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Michele Lazerow

September 04, 2018

Where can I recycle these? My local place won’t accept them. I don’t feel good chucking these into landfills. So, I’m not going to purchase any more of your eggs until I hear from you that there’s a place I can recycle the cartons.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

September 04, 2018

Hi Michele, we're so sorry to hear that your local recycling facility will not accept #1 plastics. We're in the process of a "take back" program that will allow folks like you to mail their cartons back to us (free of charge) to be recycled. We'll certainly keep our consumers in the loop as we finalize the logistics, but it sounds like this program might be of use to you. We've also found that there can be some confusion out there regarding the type of plastic that our cartons are made from, and some recycling facilities that do accept #1 plastics simply don't realize that ours are in that category. If it helps, we would be more than happy to give your local recycling facility a call to see if this is the case. Feel free to send us an email at [email protected] if this sounds like it might be helpful.

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Janelle N Peotter

September 19, 2018

I think mailing my cartons to you is not sustainable. GHG emissions for trucking a few egg cartons? My recycling facility will no longer accept "clamshell" plastics even if they are #1. You need to change your packaging ASAP. Your assumptions based on the study you site may have been true when China was still accepting this plastic but they don't now! Paper cartons please! Until you change I will have to buy another brand.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

September 22, 2018

Hi Janelle, we hear you on this issue. We do think that the take-back program could be successful if many customers are saving the cartons and mailing them in occasionally. We believe that reducing our carbon footprint is the most important thing we can do to protect our environment. Most recycling facilities do accept our #1 plastics and we're sorry to hear that yours presently does not. Unfortunately, "biodegradable" cartons made of molded paper do not decompose any more effectively in a landfill than our plastic cartons. Thank you for your honest feedback and we'll continue to pay attention to all relevant research and design information to improve our cartons.

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Nancy

September 02, 2018

Thanks... I almost stopped buying your eggs until I read the info on your packaging and went to your website to learn more. I like that you are reviewing new information as well.

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1 Reply

[email protected]

September 04, 2018

Thank you for your understanding and support, Nancy. We firmly believe in educating ourselves on this ever-changing issue whenever possible!

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Steve Hung

August 28, 2018

I’m not convinced that RPET is better. Of course if the plastic can be recycled forever, it would be a good thing. But, my understanding is that bad assumptions in LCA studies (life cycle assessment) can lead to misleading results. For example, did the study assume a 100% recycling rate? What if the actual rate were less? What if some percentage of the plastic waste winds up in landfills, but some in the ocean or tossed on the side of the road, etc.

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[email protected]

August 28, 2018

That's a really important point, Steve. We'd love to send you a copy of the study so that you can look further into any assumptions made and let us know how we could incorporate more possible outcomes into our thinking. We do want to point out that even though molded paper cartons are typically biodegradable, it's a common misconception that they'll biodegrade in an anaerobic landfill environment. So although we would never want to see our cartons end up in a landfill, if they do, they are unfortunately no worse off than paper cartons in that same landfill. We hope this information has helped clarify our decision, and please let us know if you'd like us to send that study your way!

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Maria Chang

August 15, 2018

Amazing! Just this morning while cooking breakfast I wondered "Why plastic, Pete and Gerry?" And 3 minutes later I had my answer! Thank you for staying connected with consumers and for caring about our environment. Great eggs, great packaging, never a broken egg 👌

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1 Reply

[email protected]

August 17, 2018

This is awesome, Maria. We're glad that you found the information to be helpful and easy to find, and thanks for the great feedback on our eggs and cartons alike!

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Carolyn Hardman

August 15, 2018

We can't recycle any plastic except #2 now, at least here in Maine. Our transfer station says it has to do with China refusing the plastics they used to buy from us. I agree with the superiority of the see-through plastic for supermarket eggs, but what effect does it have on your analysis of environmental impact now that the plastic cartons are going into the waste stream?

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1 Reply

[email protected]

August 15, 2018

Thanks for your comment, Carolyn. While there have certainly been some major recent changes when it comes to materials that can be exported to China, #1 plastics are still being recycled all over the country (and the world!), and we are working to ensure that our cartons are not ending up in the waste stream. We're in the very beginnings of starting a partnership with a "take back" program that will allow consumers to mail in their cartons free of charge so that they can be recycled. This will allow consumers all over the country - even those without access to a recycling center - to ensure that the cartons they purchase are being recycled and even upcycled in a closed-loop system. We'll have much more information in the coming months, but for now, we'd love to share some ideas for upcycling our cartons that our consumers have shared with us. At home, our cartons make great paint palettes, ornament storage, or even compartments for storing nails/screws, office supplies, or jewelry. Preschool programs and elementary schools sometimes use them for arts and crafts projects and storage. If you have a local farmer's market, egg farmers will sometimes repurpose our cartons (with the paper inserts removed, of course) to sell their own eggs. And finally, although they aren't biodegradable and shouldn't be planted directly into the ground, our cartons make fantastic mini windowsill greenhouses for seed starting. These are by no means long-term solutions, but we hope they'll help.

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Abilene Gray

August 14, 2018

Well the containers suck and I have stopped buying your eggs because they always always always break in those stupid containers!

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1 Reply

[email protected]

August 15, 2018

We're so sorry that you're not a big fan of our cartons, Abilene. We've found that they tend to protect the eggs better than molded paper pulp or Polystyrene, but we also know that cracked or broken eggs can happen now and then. We'd be more than happy to replace any cartons that you've been dissatisfied with if you don't mind sending us an email at [email protected]

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Margit

July 30, 2018

Why did you decide not to use recycled molded pulp, if that had the lowest impact? I've been so glad to have access to free range organic eggs in my local supermarket, thanks to you guys, and I appreciate your explanations but am not clear on this part.

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[email protected]

July 31, 2018

That's a great question, Margit! Ultimately, we decided that reusing the plastic that's already in circulation rather than letting it end up in landfills was the most responsible thing to do. It also came down to carton design and ease of use - we love that folks are able to flip the carton over (without worrying about the eggs jostling around, thanks to the tri-fold design) to check for cracked eggs before buying. Plus, the design and material tends to protect the eggs a bit better than others. We also love being able to showcase our farm families right on the carton, which we wouldn't be able to do as easily with paper pulp. We put a lot of thought and research into the choice, and we've been pleased with the outcome and positive feedback from consumers, but we're always open to change and improvement! We hope this explanation helps, and please don't hesitate to reach out any time with questions. Thank you for the support!

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LeAnne

July 26, 2018

I recently bought a carton of eggs which says good until july 28th. How long will they last past that date?

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1 Reply

[email protected]

July 27, 2018

Hi LeAnne, thanks for the question. The date on our cartons is typically a "use by" date, so we can't recommend that you consume our eggs beyond that date, as we can't guarantee their freshness. However, there's a clever trick that will give you a pretty good idea of how fresh expired eggs really are. If you fill a bowl with water and gently place the eggs in the water, you should be able to see if the eggs float or sink. If they float, you're better off tossing them; that's the sign of an older egg. If they sink, that's a pretty good indication that they're still fresh. We hope this helps!

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