5 November 2019 by Lucy Pegg

ACE calls for carton recycling support

The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) has called on European policy makers to ensure cartons are collected and recycled.

The call comes alongside its newly-launched campaign ‘We’re not just square, we’re circular’, which represents a push by the European trade body to raise awareness of the “recyclability and low carbon footprint of beverage cartons”.

This comes as the European Commission develops legislation on single use plastics which could even see cartons banned because they may be deemed single use plastics because of their polyethylene liners.  Whilst cartons are mainly paper-based, 21% of the container is made from plastic and also 4% aluminium. (see letsrecycle.com story)

Sustainable credentials

The new campaign seeks to highlight the sustainable credentials of cartons compared to more conventional containers, such as plastic bottles.

ACE’s new campaign hopes to persuade policymaker to support recycling of beverage cartons (click to enlarge)

ACE explains that all paperboard in its members’ products comes from responsibly managed forests and this allows the packaging to have one of the lowest carbon footprints in its core categories of milk and juice.

The trade group is calling for national collection or recycling targets for beverage cartons across the continent, in the hope this would ensure that beverage cartons are recycled into new products.

And, the trade body also defended its use of virgin fibres, rather than making new cartons from recycled fibre derived from used cartons. It reasoned that the use of recycled fibres would lead to increased emissions and resource use. ACE instead recommends that fibre from cartons is used to create other paper packaging products.

Annick Carpentier, director general of ACE, said: “Beverage cartons provide a double circularity, at sourcing thanks to the renewability of their main components and at end-of-life through recycling. This double circularity helps ensure that beverage cartons play a role in helping achieve a low carbon circular economy.”

Recycling rate

Alongside the launch of its new campaign, ACE has announced that the recycling rate for beverage cartons in the 28 EU member states rose to 49% in 2018 – this is a 1% increase on 2017 figures. This is based on industry figures supplied to ACE. The official UK statistics aren’t known yet but WRAP’s research in 2017 put this at around 48%.

Ms Carpentier said: “We are pleased to see that the beverage carton recycling rate continues to increase throughout the EU. The year-on-year increase underscores the efforts made towards recycling beverage cartons.”

“We are pleased to see that the beverage carton recycling rate continues to increase throughout the EU”

Annick Carpentier

ACE UK  –  the UK arm of the body – operates the only carton recycling facility in the UK. The site near Halifax opened in 2013 and has a capacity of 25,000 tonnes, or 40% of the cartons manufactured for the UK market each year.

According to 2017 WRAP guidance for local authorities, cartons represent around 0.2% of the municipal waste stream – around 60,000 tonnes per annum.

Energy recovery

ACE also explained that several projects aimed at the non-fibre elements of beverage cartons will be made operational next year to try and limit the amount of material incinerated.

Since National Sword restrictions were implemented on waste exports to China, energy recovery has been used as a “temporary option” to dispose of the plastic and aluminium elements of cartons in the UK and across Europe. (see letsrecycle.com story)

Carton recycling

Cartons being pulped to separate the fibres from the polyethylene and the aluminium

On the website for its new sustainability campaign ACE  explains that the aluminium and polymers used in the cartons continue to be sent to energy recovery facilities in Eurpe too, as there are limited end markets for the material.

Cartons are made of 21% polymers – mostly polyethylene – and 4% aluminium. The remaining 75% is paperboard fibre which is recycled.

Describing the recycling process in their FAQs, ACE said: “The fibre is separated from the polymers and aluminium in a special pulper. These fibres are used to produce new paper products, while for the moment the aluminium and polymers are mainly used for energy recovery.”

The organisation added: “However, several projects aimed at recycling the non-fibre elements of beverage cartons will be made operational throughout 2020 which will ensure that all the components of beverage cartons are duly recycled.”

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