OPINION: Getting England carton ready

In this opinion piece, Mandy Kelly, senior recycling manager at ACE UK, discusses the need for councils to get ready to collect cartons from March 2026.

OPINION: As the trade association for the UK’s leading food, drink, and other liquid carton manufacturers, ACE UK was delighted when cartons were included in the Government’s Simpler Recycling reforms, announced in October 2023.

Mandy Kelly, senior recycling manager at ACE UK

These changes will ensure that from 31 March 2026, all English households will be able to recycle cartons with confidence, bringing an end to the current confusing and fragmented system. This is welcome news, not just for ACE UK and our members, but for the 60% of respondents that supported the inclusion of cartons in the 2021 Consistency in Household and Business Recycling Collections in England consultation.

With support for enhanced collection and recycling of cartons only growing in the intervening years, DEFRA’s confirmation that cartons will be included within the core list of recyclable materials to be collected from all English households provides certainty to consumers, retailers, producers, local authorities, and the waste management industry.

The third of English local authorities which have not already set up kerbside carton collections will now need to update their processes in line with the Simpler Recycling reforms. But with only two-thirds of English local authorities currently collecting cartons, it’s clear there is still work to be done.

Introducing ACE UK’s Carton Ready campaign

We want the Government’s Simpler Recycling reforms to be a success, and we know that some local authorities will need help to update their existing processes to comply with the new requirements. The ACE UK team is ready to support local authorities to adapt to these changes, working with their local waste management contractors to rapidly develop their carton collection, sorting, and recycling infrastructure.

That’s why we’ve launched our new Carton Ready campaign to help local authorities and waste managers successfully implement the reforms ahead of the implementation date. We know from our work with local authorities that they need support in three key areas:

1)    Expertise in delivering innovative recycling infrastructure and implementation projects;

2)    Guidance on successful implementation of Simpler Recycling – whether this means developing a new contractual arrangement with local waste management providers, or a mid-contract renegotiation to reflect new DEFRA requirements, alongside communicating the changes to local residents;

3)    Learning and best practice case studies from local authorities that have already implemented these changes.

Delivering change

Every local authority yet to enact the reforms will face their own unique challenges implementing the reforms. Our Carton Ready Implementation Toolkit, which includes detailed guidance, is based upon decades of experience supporting councils successfully establish kerbside collections for cartons.

Chelmsford borough council

This includes working with Chelmsford borough council when it updated its kerbside collection service to include plastics and cartons, investing in upgrades to its local material handling infrastructure. We initially aided the council in directing the cartons, once sorted, to a wastepaper recycling specialist company, and then collaborated with them again to send these cartons to our recycling facility. Within a few years, the council doubled the volume of plastic and cartons collected and cut residual waste levels by 20%.

Somerset county council

We also collaborated with Somerset county council as it implemented its “Recycle More” programme for its 260,000 residents. As part of this programme, Somerset invested in a new fleet of upgraded collection vehicles and enhancements to material sorting lines at area recycling depots. We worked with Somerset to ensure that these cartons were subsequently sent to ACE UK’s Halifax recycling facility for processing. Alongside these changes, Somerset delivered an extensive communications program that helped all participating households understand the changes to kerbside collection services, ultimately resulting in residual waste reduction of 20% and a 50% increase in plastic materials collected.

East Cambridgeshire district council

We also assisted East Cambridgeshire district council as it introduced cartons into its kerbside collection alongside plastics, covering more than 36,400 households. To facilitate this transition, the council invested in new collection vehicles and ran an informational campaign for residents which spanned newspapers, radio adverts, and flyers. The cartons collected were then sent to our recycling facility, as part of a wider agreement where we received cartons across all of Cambridgeshire.  After only two years, the council’s recycling rates more than doubled from 23% to 56%.

Time for action

Now that we have certainty over the inclusion of cartons within the core list of materials for consistent kerbside collections across England, our mission is to rapidly turn this into a reality. ACE UK is here to assist local authorities and waste management companies to increase carton collections and recycling across the country, with the goal of achieving a 90% collection rate and 70% recycling rate for cartons across the entire UK by 2030.

The long wait for certainty is over, now it’s time to get Carton Ready.

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