Whole, two-percent, skim, organic, soy: with so many milk varieties lining grocery store shelves, and we've only named but a few, you're bound to have a carton or two in your refrigerator at any given moment. And what about orange juice: pulp-free, extra-pulp, added calcium, extra vitamin D. Despite the fact that these cartons are generally made of 85 percent paper, 15 percent polymer, and are therefore largely recyclable, not all municipal curbside programs accept them because they fall under the material category of paperboard and are lined with wax.
While more than 85 percent of the U.S. population has access to paperboard recycling, there are still parts of the country where eco-conscientious milk and juice drinkers must drive to properly equipped facilities in order to have their cartons recycled. So even though your milk and juice cartons bear the friendly message “please recycle,” doing so may not be so simple.
For those living in areas where recycling isn't an option, there are plenty of alternative and creative ways to put milk and juice cartons to use.
MILK CARTON CRAFTS
Doll House: Using 2 to 4 milk or juice cartons, you can help your daughter make a house for her dolls. Each carton can be a separate room stuck together with glue, with cut-out windows and doors. Visit here for more specific instructions and a list of materials.
Gingerbread House Support: For not-quite-old-enough kids who want to participate in the family's annual gingerbread house-making contest, let them use a milk or juice carton as a wobble-free foundation. They can secure the gingerbread to the carton with icing so the walls don't collapse as they attach candy and other decorations.
Birdhouse: With a milk or juice carton, staples and a stapler, some acrylic paint and a brush, scissors, a hole-punch, and some wire or sturdy string, you and your kids can make a quick and easy backyard birdhouse. Just staple the top of the carton shut, paint it the color of your choice, let it dry, and cut a hole in its side for birds to enter and exit through (the size of the hole depends on the type of birds you want to attract). Next, cut several small holes in the bottom of the carton for water drainage, use the hole-punch to make a small hole through the top of the carton to thread string or wire through, and hang the finished birdhouse in a tree.
Street of Houses: If you're trying to come up with classroom crafts or art projects, letting your students each paint a milk or juice carton to resemble a house is a great way for them to express their artistic personalities AND practice eco-friendly repurposing. Prepare the cartons by washing them out and painting them with white emulsion paint – this will make it easier for the students' water-based paints to stick on the waxy surface of the cartons. Once the students have painted their cartons and labeled their names, put a string through the houses and hang them up somewhere in your classroom – in front of the windows or above the chalkboard.
Pencil Holder or Vase: Have your kids cut the tops off of milk or juice cartons and then decorate them with paints, tissue paper, wrapping paper, ribbon, or glitter. They can use the decorated cartons as pencil holders at school or they can give them away to grandmas, aunts, or teachers as vases. (See another interesting re-use pencil holder in our re-use yellow pages article.)
Piggy Bank: Visit here to find out how you and your kids can make a piggy bank using only a milk or juice carton, a utility knife, craft glue, felt, tempura paint, a paintbrush, and googly eyes and pom-poms from the craft store.
Milk Carton Lantern: Using a milk or juice carton, unryu paper (or any paper that's white and translucent), newspaper, raffia (or any type of ribbon or twine), an LED tea light, and a few household craft tools, you can make an eco-friendly, decorative lantern. The finished product looks great on a countertop or mantel, or strung up outdoors for a garden or deck party. Visit Shiho Masuda's channel on YouTube for a step-by-step, easy-to-follow instructional video.
Baby Blocks: Wash and dry milk or juice cartons, stuff them with scrunched up newspaper or junk mail, then tape them shut. They make great blocks for babies and toddlers to practice their stacking skills and to play with; they also have the added benefit of being relatively quiet.
HOUSEHOLD USES FOR MILK CARTONS
Giant Ice Cubes: Clean a milk or juice carton thoroughly, then fill it with water, and freeze. Once you remove the carton, these ice cubes are great for keeping in coolers for long road trips, days at the beach, picnics, or parties.
Liquid Storage: Milk or juice cartons are great for freezing soups, frozen desserts, or whipped cream. You don't have to thaw the whole container when you only want a single serving, just cut off as much as you need, then peel the cardboard off, and thaw.
Paint Containers: Trim the top off of a milk or juice carton and use it to carry small amounts of paint from place to place for small, around-the-house touch-ups.
Floor Protectors: If you want to protect your floors when moving furniture, simply place milk or juice cartons around the legs of tables and chairs to prevent scuffing.
Craft/Sewing Supply Organizer: Cut a milk or juice carton in half (invert the lid), or cut the lid off a half-pint carton, and use them as organizer squares that you can keep in a drawer or cabinet. Use them to keep thread, ribbon, buttons, beads, pins, tacks, needles, or any other craft/sewing supply organized.
All-Purpose Container: Cut the top off a milk or juice container, cover it with gift wrap or contact paper, and then use it to store pencils, pens, nuts, bolts, nails, rubber bands, or various other odds and ends.
Planter: Half-pint milk or juice cartons, like the ones your kids have at school, are the perfect size for making into planters. All you need to do is cut the top off the carton, fill it with potting soil (up to about a quarter of an inch from the top), and then plant your seed. After the seedling has grown 2 to 3 inches tall, you'll be able to transplant it. And the carton can be reused again and again for other plants.
Disposable Cutting Boards: Cut a milk or juice carton along its corners so it opens and can be spread flat. It can then be used when you need to filet fish or drain fried foods – the paper absorbs the oil and the waxed side keeps it from leaking.
Vegetable Garden Collars: Cut the tops and bottoms off of several milk or juice cartons, and when the ground is soft, push the collars into the soil, around the plants. This will discourage grubs and cut-worms from attacking young tomato and pepper plants.
Weights: Filled with sand or pebbles, milk or juice cartons can be great for weighing down tarpaulin or drop cloth when it's windy out, especially if you're out of spare bricks. For added security, you can also punch holes in the tops of the cartons, thread rope through them, and then tie the cartons down.
Kitchen Scrap Collector: Tear open the top of a milk or juice carton and keep it next to the kitchen sink to collect food scraps throughout the day. To prevent any insects or odors from accumulating, seal the top of the carton back up between uses with a clothespin or a metal binder clip. When the carton is full, take it out to your backyard compost pile.
Compost Material: Paper milk and juice cartons are biodegradable, so you can add them to you compost pile when you've run out of ideas for reusing them. Because of their wax coating, they may take slightly longer to decompose than other compostable material, however. Tearing the cartons into pieces will help them deteriorate faster.