Nellie's Free Range Eggs


What’s with the Plastic Nellie?

A question that we hear from time to time is: “I love your eggs and your commitment to animal welfare and the environment, but why do you use plastic egg cartons? Isn’t that worse for the environment?”

It’s an excellent question. We’ve all come to see plastic as bad. It’s derived from a non-renewable source (oil), it doesn’t decompose for a very long time, and these days, a lot of it is winding into the oceans (see Pacific Garbage Patch and Microbeads Pollution). So it’s understandable that it has a bad reputation.

On the other hand, the molded pulp cartons and the polystyrene foam cartons are not environmental bargains either, for many of the same reasons. So what’s a well-meaning person to do?

We asked Quantis, a Canadian research company specializing in environmental impact of products, to do a complete Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Egg Cartons for us in 2012.

Quantis looked across the raw material sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, transportation, and end of life/recycling aspects for RPET (our recycled PET clear package), virgin PET, Recycled Molded Pulp (RMP) and Polystyrene (commonly known as styrofoam). They scored that as a total Carbon/Climate Change footprint score based on all of those life stages. They also scored them on the basis of Human Health, Ecosystem Quality, and Resource Depletion measures.

The RPET carton that we use was determined to be superior, or vastly superior, to both the Molded Pulp and Polystyrene as a whole, and across all of the individual life stages, with the one exception that it had a slightly higher manufacturing impact than recycled pulp. It is worth noting that the worst option, was typically the PET plastic made from virgin plastic. That’s because of the high amount of fossil fuels required both as energy and raw material in its production. This is what large 2-liter soda bottles are made from (so think about that the next time you’re considering buying soda). We take the recycled material from those containers to make our cartons. The tri-fold PET also has an important consumer benefit in that it provides the best protection for the eggs while allowing you to see the unbroken eggs without opening the carton in the store.

Once used, our cartons can then be placed right back in the recycling stream for another trip through the system. Paper pulp can also be recycled. Styrofoam all goes to the landfill to wait for the end of time.

So in total, while we wish we could sell our eggs in wooden boxes or wicker baskets that were re-used over an over, we feel as though we’ve arrived at the best possible solution we can for the time being. We ask that you always recycle your Nellie’s Free Range cartons after use and we can continue to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible. And thank you for bringing our eggs home in a re-usable canvas bag as well.

22 responses

  1. Debra says:

    Nellie’s cartons go to my recycling bin for the single-stream recycling plant! Sometimes I use it as a fun feeding tray/toy for my cat…. and then I recycle it!

    1. Sarah Walls says:

      Thank you for recycling, Debra! Our cartons are made from recycled water bottles and are indeed recyclable again. We’ve heard that they also made great ‘mini greenhouses’ for starting seedlings in spring and are great for holding paint for art projects.

  2. Jan Schochet says:

    Sadly 2/3 of people do not recycle (according to 2013 EPA reports) and plenty of municipalities and most all rural areas have either very limited recycling capabilities, with plastics recycling very limited or have no recycling at all (rural). Paper is far better because at least it biodegrades.

    1. Sarah Walls says:

      Hi Jan,

      We appreciate your feedback. We hope that there will be a day when there will be a shortage of plastic soda bottles and we’ll have to find another source of packaging material for our eggs. But for now, we find that reusing and recycling what is already out there helps to make a difference, one bottle at a time. We work hard to make sure our consumers know that it is best to recycle or reuse these cartons, but if you have any suggestions on how we may do that better, we’d love to hear about it. We’ve talked to a few consumers who might be unable to recycle them in their small town, but who donate the cartons to local schools to use in art classes or for craft or gardening projects.

  3. David says:

    My community doesn’t recycle that kind of plastic, so, unfortunately, it’s a deal-breaker for me for the time being. My supermarket has pasture eggs in cardboard cartons, so I’ll be buying them, at least for now. Thanks for your commitment to animal welfare, though!

    1. Sarah Walls says:

      Hello David,

      Thanks so much for reaching out to us. We’re really sorry to hear that our recycled cartons are not recyclable in your town. We’d be glad to look into this further if it might be helpful. I’ve personally contacted some of our smaller towns nearby and found that some of the volunteers were new to working at the facility and not informed of the ability to recycle certain types of plastics. Our email is: Thanks!

  4. Jacky Sullivan says:

    For people complaining about not having recycling possibilities for these containers from Nellies may I suggest that instead of “downing” Nellies eggs they begin using that energy to complain to their town boards to implement better recycling programs!
    If recycling is not occurring to it’s highest level possible in my town I would be addressing that since the impact is unfathomable rather than fretting over the impact my once a week egg carton comes from! Beyond that point there are literally hundreds of ways to reuse and recycle these plastic cartons without immediately placing them in the garbage. Note: if there are recyclable collection cans anywhere you could even save them until you travel there and dispose of them there when you next visit. Thank you Nellies for bringing back and supporting family farms.

    1. Sarah Walls says:

      Hi Jacky,

      Thanks so much for reaching out to us. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions for reusing our cartons. We’ve found in addition to recycling them, our cartons make great jewelry holders, work wonderfully for art projects at local schools, and are superb for starting spring seedlings indoors. We’d love to hear how you re-purpose and reuse our cartons too!

      Thank you for your support of our small family farms and our humane farming practices.

    2. chris says:

      well said, if you town doesn’t recycle at all, the least of your worries is the one egg carton.

  5. Denise says:

    I reuse them for my Art Workshop in Education community college course when teaching my pre-service teachers how to use recycled materials to their advantage. We use the egg cartons to hold our homemade watercolor paints!

  6. Jessica says:

    I use egg cartons as little molds for freezing teaspoons of crushed garlic. I mince garlic, mix in a tiny bit of olive oil to stick it together, then press teaspoons-full into the egg cups. I put it in the freezer until firm, then pop them out, and into a jar, and store in the freezer. I can just take out the number of teaspoons I need whenever I need minced garlic in a recipe, without having to peel and crush garlic every time or clean those tiny holes out of the press! (I use a lot of garlic).

    1. Sarah Walls says:

      Great idea, Jessica! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Elizabeth says:

    We have used our Nellie’s cartoons to start tomato seedlings. I often save them and bring them to a neighbor who had chickens and sells her eggs. People in rural areas with limited recycling options probably have access to a local eh farmer as well

  8. Jim Shaughnessy says:

    Not only can you recycle them but they can be repurposed also. From drawer organizers for small objects to ice cube trays to seed starters. You imagination is the limit

    1. Sarah Walls says:

      Ice cube trays! What a great idea, thanks for sharing Jim!

  9. Daniel says:

    Are you able to share the study with us? I’m curious about why RPET would get a better score than pulp, it doesn’t seem to make sense. Thanks!

    1. Sarah Walls says:

      Hi Daniel! Thanks so much for writing. Absolutely we’re happy to share the study. It’s quite lengthy so we’re not able to put it on our website, but we’d be glad to email a copy to you (or anyone interested) Please email us at: and we’d be glad to send it out! Thanks!

  10. Cheryl Fetterolf says:

    How do you use the egg carton as a water bottle?

    1. Sarah says:

      Hi Cheryl, thanks for the question. Our cartons are actually made into their carton state by recycling and melting down water bottles to make the carton shape that we use. We’re not aware of our cartons themselves being used as water bottles. We hope that helps to answer your question!

  11. KE Stull says:

    Please reach out to Montgomery County, Maryland. I’ve long thought the county recycling program included plastic egg cartons, but, in consulting their website, it appears they only accept paper cartons. This is an environmentally conscious jurisdiction in which a lot of eggs are sold in plastic now, so I’m kind of baffled. It also puts my family in a bind for the present. And, for what it’s worth, before posting this I also sent a comment in this regard to the county dept of environment (in a categorized on-line submission).

    1. KE Stull says:

      Update from Montgomery Cty, MD Dept of Env – although the website is a bit unclear on this point, PET #1 is accepted, but not plastic containers that are PET #6. I’ll have to check Nellie’s cartons next time I’m in the store, but I assume I’m out of my “bind”. Thanks

      1. Taylor says:

        Hi KE, our cartons are considered a #1 plastic, so you shouldn’t have any trouble recycling them if your local recycling center in Montgomery County accepts #1 PET. Let us know if you run into any issues and we would be happy to reach out! Thank you so much for your support and for being an environmentally-conscious consumer.

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