The Value of Grade #52


By Jason Pelz, Vice President of Recycling Projects, Carton Council

In 2011, the Paper Stock Industry (PSI) granted a new commodity grade, #52, for aseptic and gable-top cartons. This status is only granted when industry demand and commodity value justifies it, which is the case with cartons. And because of this, recovered cartons can have a higher value in end markets than cartons that are sorted and included with mixed paper. 

Grade #52 reiterates that cartons are highly recyclable, a commodity that has value in end markets. It is for this reason that the Carton Council strongly recommends a “positive sort” when it comes to cartons. By being sorted and baled as a separate commodity grade at MRFs, both communities and facilities can maximize the highest value for cartons in end markets, while contributing to the steady market demand for cartons. 

Brokers traditionally sell cartons to paper mills and recycling companies in North America and around the world for manufacturing of new products. Since 2009, the Carton Council has aggressively worked to develop domestic market capacity for cartons while also respecting the powerful export pull that is already in place for both positive-sort cartons as well as cartons sorted as part of mixed paper. While the Carton Council advocates for sole separating cartons to maximize their value and grow the volumes, cartons that aren’t separated typically end up with mixed paper where they can also be recycled. 

Currently, there are four paper mills that process cartons in the US and 10 total in North America.
Growing end market solutions for Grade #52 is only possible if a sufficient quantity of these positive-sort cartons is generated to meet growing demand. This is the principal reason the Carton Council has been strongly focused on growing household access. We understand that access is the underlying foundation to carton recycling. And along with the proper infrastructure and consumer education, it drives carton recycling, which is the Carton Council’s end goal.