Do you recycle ice cream cartons?


Happy Global Recycling Day? It wasn’t on my radar that this existed but, of course it does. And I have a very fitting story with which to celebrate. #Themes

Today’s tale is all about ice cream cartons. Do you throw yours in the recycling bin with the rest of your cardboard? If so, you’re not alone, but you’re doing it wrong. No ice cream carton has ever been recyclable. It’s kind of surprising: Looks like cardboard, smells like cardboard, tastes like cardboard...

Alas, ice cream cartons contain a plastic lining to protect the integrity of the ice cream during the transport process (ice cream has a lot of integrity). Still, just because this is the way it’s always been doesn’t mean it’s absolutely impossible to design a plastic-free version. Last month, Kailey Donewald, founder of plant-based gelato company Sacred Serve launched the world’s first fully recyclable, plastic-free ice cream carton. Can you believe?

via Instagram

I spoke to Donewald last week after feeling particularly irked by one dumb granola bar that was pretending to be Jesus. She was much more calm and civilized about the whole thing, but she did say she believed General Mills’ greenwashing move was “really unfortunate.” She continued:

“It’s a shame, it takes away a little bit from what we’re doing and it’s confusing to customers. It’s going to lead people to throw those greenwashing products into the recycling bin and render that whole bag trash. It’s very damaging.”

Donewald spent FOUR YEARS executing on her mission to sell her ice cream in an entirely sustainable, plastic-free package. “It was really quite a struggle to cut through the noise and find something plastic-free,” she said. “At that time the only option was plant-based, but still had plastic and still contained polymers.”

Donewald said it didn’t seem like the technology existed to create a fully-recyclable carton, but she took the years-long voyage because sustainability is kind of her whole schtick. Her ice cream brand is entirely vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, lactose-free, egg-free, raw, and non-GMO, so it’s a product that appeals to a very specific kind of customer — one that may already know most ice cream cartons can’t be recycled.

But her insistence on finding this type of sustainable packaging is really important, and it could shift the industry. If anything, Donewald has proved that with the right kind of focus, it is possible to find better alternatives to the materials most companies rely on today. It’s even more compelling — and admirable — that her small ice cream brand sought to tackle this great feat. Larger companies may resist such a search because they assume the materials will be too expensive or that the search is too time-intensive. Well, bitches, looks like someone else just did your homework for you.

Donewald says the new carton “is slightly more expensive,” but because her brand has always worked with custom-designed boxes, she already had the room in her margins to be able to afford it.

I can’t help but to think about Ben & Jerry’s, a brand whose entire identity is based on social justice and being good to the earth. B&J’s does a lot great (and their ice cream legitimately rocks) and I’d imagine they’d be interested in taking on packaging that’s better for the planet. So… tick-tock?

If you’re curious, Sacred Serve’s packaging is sourced from a company in the U.K. that developed a ~proprietary~ water-based barrier to replace the plastic lining of the typical carton. Sacred Serve is technically gelato, but Donewald says this carton can work with any type of ice cream. Hello!?

While I’m clearly thrilled about this sustainable development, it bears repeating that recycling is not the solution to our climate crisis/garbage problem. Like at all. But I want to celebrate this win as one step forward.

From a $$ perspective, these green investments can be rewarding for brands. “We’re already seeing a lot of interest from retail buyers,” Donewald said. “It’s allowed us to cut through the noise.” While she said it can be difficult to get attention as a small brand, having such a differentiator — and one that customers truly value — has helped Sacred Serve get its (frozen) foot in the door.

I incorrectly assumed that since it’s been less than a month with the packaging redesign, Donewald wouldn’t be able to gauge its impact on her sales. But, she said, people are paying attention and “more people will purchase our products because they align with their values.”

That’s pretty cool, ya?

P.S. My sexy cute Good Little Garbage Girl banner was designed by my good friend Drew. Thanks, Drew!