Can You Recycle Ben and Jerry's Containers? (Find Out Now!)

Jessica Vaillancourt
by Jessica Vaillancourt

Who isn’t a fan of ice cream? Ben & Jerry’s is a Vermont-based ice cream company that’s all about sustainability and quirky, delicious ice cream flavors. They sell ice cream, frozen yogurt, and sorbet in stores and Scoop Shops around the US, UK, and Europe. If you eat B&J’s on the regular, you might be wondering: can you recycle Ben and Jerry containers?

Unfortunately, Ben & Jerry’s containers are not recyclable. Their plastic-coated paperboard is incompatible with the recycling process, as it cannot break down into pulp. Ben & Jerry’s has made positive environmental changes by moving from petroleum-based plastic coating to more sustainable plant-based polyethylene coating. However, most US recycling programs still do not recycle coated paperboard.

As of this writing, Ben & Jerry’s containers and packaging are not recyclable or compostable. But major changes have taken place between 2019 and 2021 with the company’s manufacturing and single-use plastic usage. Every year they come closer to producing 100% recyclable, compostable containers.

How to Know if Something Can Be Recycled

You can recycle a variety of items: paper, glass, plastic, e-waste, and metals. Most plastics and glass that are recyclable will have the triangle-shaped recycling symbol stamped on the bottom of the item. But let’s focus on paper and plastic, since ice cream containers contain both materials.

To make it simple, most paper is recyclable. Here is a list of the most common paper items you can recycle:

  • Newspapers magazines, catalogs
  • Office paper, construction paper
  • Phone books
  • Cardboard, cardboard boxes

Paper is recyclable, as long as it is not treated or coated with plastic. On the other hand, certain types of paper are NOT recyclable:

  • Plastic-coated, treated paper or paperboard
  • Paper with food waste, like dirty pizza boxes
  • Juice boxes, ice cream cartons
  • Paper cups and paper towels

Why Can’t You Recycle Ice Cream Containers?

Most papers in the US are highly recyclable, with 87% of Americans able to recycle with curbside pickup or drop-off. Sadly, it is difficult to recycle ice cream containers because of their manufacturing. The plastic coating around ice cream containers cannot be recycled.

Ice cream manufacturers add a coating of chemical petroleum or polyethylene to protect the paper and ice cream from moisture. Additionally, the lid rims also have plastic coating to insulate the ice cream.

A pulper shreds paperboard into smaller pieces at the start of the recycling process. After that, the smaller pieces become pulp. Finally, this pulp creates other paper products. When paperboard is recycled, it is shredded by a pulper into small pieces and turned into a pulp. This process cannot happen if there is a plastic coating.

Ben & Jerry’s Sustainable Practices and Packaging

Ben & Jerry’s is a Vermont-based company that emphasizes sustainable and green practices. Over the years 2019-2021, they have made environmentally friendly changes to their packaging and ice cream shop practices.

They are a company that cares about their contribution to the climate crisis. Consequentially, they have taken steps to significantly reduce plastic waste and create recyclable containers in the UK and Europe. If you live in the EU and want to know if you can recycle Ben and Jerry containers, check with your local recycling center, and look for a recycling symbol on the carton.

Plastic Coating on Containers

The plastic coating around Ben & Jerry’s containers used to be made of petroleum-based plastic. Unfortunately, this coating is especially wasteful with plastic and is not compostable or recyclable. The company has taken initiatives in the past couple years to transition their container coating to a plant-based polyethylene coating.

So far, this transition has mostly taken place in Europe, where more of their containers are becoming recyclable. And while this is saving 88,000 pounds of plastic a year, coated paperboard is still NOT widely recyclable in the United States.

Ben & Jerry’s has set the goal of making all of their packaging reusable, compostable, and recyclable by the year 2025.

Plastic Use in Ice Cream Shops

The packaging sold in stores is not the only change Ben & Jerry’s has made. In 2019, their Scoop Shops replaced their plastic spoons with wooden spoons. This will save an average of 80,000 pounds of plastic each year. And by the end of 2021, all the ice cream cups, drink cups, and lids in their Scoop Shops will be compostable and plant-based.

Creative Ways to Use Ben & Jerry’s Containers

Sadly you can’t recycle your Ben & Jerry’s container. Despite this, there is a way to reuse it instead of throwing it in the garbage. If you’re willing to get creative, there are a few ways great to repurpose your Ben and Jerry’s containers. Here are some fun ideas to inspire you:

  • A cup of water to rinse your paintbrush off.
  • A container to store leftover food. 
  • A planter for succulents.
  • A coin holder or a piggy bank for kids.
  • A basket (wrap your favorite yarn or twine around it).
  • An office supplies or pen holder for your desk.
  • Container for dry pet food. 

Hopefully you feel inspired to use a few of your ice cream containers for something fun, creative, and functional.


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Jessica Vaillancourt
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