How often do you think about the carton your eggs come in? Most of us don’t give them a second thought, unless we end up with a few broken eggs, leaving us feeling scrambled. Let’s take a closer look at the underrated egg carton and see what goes into making this marvel of modern engineering.
The life of an egg carton might seem over-easy — all it has to do is transport your eggs from the farm to the grocery store and finally to your kitchen, right?
In reality, egg cartons have multiple jobs, including:
On the side of your carton, you will usually see two numbers and one or two dates. This stamp will include the Julian date, which shows when the eggs were packed; the farm code, which designates where they came from; and an expiration, sell-by or use-by date.
It might be easy to crush an egg carton, but that same shape gives the container its strength. The curves in the egg divots make the package stronger and prevent crushing. You can find egg cartons that hold anywhere from six to 60 eggs.
Egg cartons come in three egg-citing flavors: pulp, foam and plastic.
Pulp cartons are usually made from a mixture of paper, water and grass fibers. This material has been around since World War II, but it became more popular in the 1980s because it’s both biodegradable and inexpensive to produce.
Making a pulp carton is similar to creating a paper-mache craft. Huge vats mix water and paper into a thick slurry that can be piped into molds where the containers are formed and allowed to dry. Recycling these cartons is easy since they’re just paper. You can toss them in your recycling bin, put them into your compost pile, or cut them up and use them for seed starters by filling them with soil.
Foam cartons start their life as small plastic beads that are melted and molded into the iconic shape. They’ve been around since the 1950s and are inexpensive — but they aren’t biodegradable. The best way to reuse these cartons is to upcycle them into storage containers or art supplies. Check with your recycling company before you toss them into your bin — not all companies are set up to recycle the polystyrene foam that makes up these cartons.
Finally, plastic cartons are becoming more popular, though they’ve been around since the 1960s. Thin PET plastic is heated and pressed into molds to form the container, which is lightweight but still protects the eggs. The best thing about these cartons is that they’re recyclable. A single piece of plastic can be recycled up to seven times, and it uses 60 percent less energy during the manufacturing process.
Plastic cartons are also useful for storage containers or art supplies, but they’re much easier to toss into your recycling bin than foam ones are.
Egg cartons may be simple, but they enable farmers to move from the chicken coop to the grocery store safely and effectively. They keep our eggs from becoming scrambled before it’s time for breakfast. The next time you pop open an egg carton, don’t get cracked if you find a broken egg or two. You have a better idea of how the humble container is created and everything it goes through to bring your breakfast to the table.