Foam vs. Plastic vs. Molded Pulp Egg Cartons

Foam egg carton, plastic egg carton, and natural pulp egg carton

If you’ve begun the process of choosing egg packaging materials, you’ve likely realized that there’s no shortage of options. Even a quick trip to the grocery store egg section shows that you have so many options - Styrofoam, plastic, or paper egg cartons? 

With concerns about sustainability and being kinder to our environment on the rise, more questions come into play about the egg packaging materials you choose than simply what will provide protection for your eggs at the lowest price. Which egg cartons are the most eco-friendly? Is it possible to check both the wallet-friendly box AND the sustainability box? Let’s consider a few facts about foam, plastic, and molded pulp egg cartons that might give you a surprising answer.

Foam Egg Cartons

How are foam egg cartons made?

Many people don’t know that Styrofoam is nothing more than just plastic beads made from petroleum-based polystyrene, or plastic #6. These beads are melted down and formed into whatever shape needed to get the job done. 

Are foam egg cartons recyclable?

Rarely. You’ll need to check with your local recycling company before you toss them in the recycling bin since not all recycling companies are able to recycle the material that makes foam cartons. The process for actually recycling Styrofoam is expensive, and there isn’t a considerable enough market for the material. Often the only way to recycle foam egg cartons is by repurposing them for household storage and craft needs. 

Are foam egg cartons biodegradable?

Foam egg cartons are definitely not biodegradable. They will sit for about 500 years in landfills, not fully decomposing, but just gradually breaking down into smaller pieces of foam over time.

How well do foam egg cartons protect eggs?

When asked which material protects eggs better - foam, plastic, or cardboard - many would reason that foam provides more cushioning and therefore must offer greater impact protection. An experiment performed by environment reporter Jacob Fenston compared the results when eggs packaged in foam, plastic, and molded pulp cartons were dropped. Contrary to popular belief, the foam cartons actually performed the worst! More eggs were broken in the foam egg cartons than in the molded pulp and plastic egg cartons. This is surprising, since foam egg cartons are the more popular choice when most people hit the grocery store. At the end of the day, foam egg cartons may not have the durability their reputation suggests.

Plastic Egg Cartons

How are plastic egg cartons made?

Thin polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic is heated and pressed into molds to form the egg carton containers. These cartons are lightweight but still protect and cushion the contents.

Are plastic egg cartons recyclable?

Generally, yes. The good news is that virtually every recycling company will accept plastic egg cartons, and many counties around the United States will actually fine you for not separating your plastic from garbage. An added benefit to recycling or reusing plastic egg cartons is their ability to be cleaned thoroughly, as opposed to foam and molded pulp cartons which will absorb moisture and residue.

But here’s the problem - recycling companies will only accept plastic if it is free from residue, oils, and anything else that deem them contaminated. What happens when your plastic egg cartons are deemed non-recyclable? Into the landfill they go. As for the plastic egg cartons that are deemed recyclable, the process of actually recycling plastic properly is quite costly energy and water-wise, so recycling plastic is wasteful in and of itself.

Are plastic egg cartons biodegradable?

Not even a little bit! Similar to foam, plastic also doesn’t break down in landfills. In fact, it takes plastic up to 1,000 years to degrade! So unless you are able to reuse plastic egg cartons yourself the full six to seven times their lifespan allows, or keep them uncontaminated for the recycling process, they’re not much of a more sustainable option than the foam egg cartons.

Molded Pulp Egg Cartons

How are molded pulp egg cartons made?

That brings us to what we believe here at Falcon Packaging to be the crown jewel of egg packaging materials - molded pulp egg cartons. Similar to a paper mache craft you made in grade school, molded pulp is composed of paper, water, and sometimes grass fibers that are mixed together by huge machines into a thick slurry and piped into molds where the containers are formed and dried.  

Are molded pulp egg cartons recyclable?

Absolutely! When you choose egg cartons and egg packaging materials that are made from molded pulp, you are not only going with an inexpensive option, but you are also choosing the most biodegradable and sustainable option. Reuse them for composting, crafts, storage, insect colonies, etc., or just toss them in the recycling bin when you’re done. (Bear in mind that pulp egg cartons that are contaminated with cracked eggs or other residue cannot be recycled.)

Think of it - recycling one ton of paper can save 17 trees and 3 cubic yards of landfill space! It may not seem like much when you consider the immense amount of consumption and waste that happens every day in the world, but if your choice of egg packaging materials can make a difference in our planet AND saves you money, it’s worth considering the most environmentally-friendly option.

Are molded pulp egg cartons biodegradable?

Yes, molded pulp is 100% biodegradable! Even if molded pulp egg cartons are contaminated with broken eggs or other residue and need to be discarded in the trash, molded pulp takes less than a month to fully decompose in a landfill. And since it’s made from non-toxic, natural materials, it won’t harm the environment as it breaks down.

How well do molded pulp egg cartons protect eggs?

In his aforementioned article, Jacob Fenston referred to one research team who subjected 180 dozen eggs (2,160 eggs total) to computerized vibrations that were designed to simulate truck travel. Researchers counted the number of damaged eggs in each carton after 15 minutes, 75 minutes, and 180 minutes of simulated travel. The results showed that molded pulp egg cartons had the least amount of breakage (7.31%) after the impact of travel, whereas foam egg cartons had an 8.61% breakage rate. This indicates that molded pulp egg cartons protect eggs better than foam egg cartons!

Choose Molded Pulp Egg Cartons From Falcon Packaging

Falcon Packaging is your one-stop shop for the most affordable and eco-friendly egg packaging products. All of our egg cartons are made from 100% recycled paper, so you can have peace of mind knowing that your purchase supports sustainable manufacturing. Still have questions? We’re here to help! Get in touch with us today and ask away.