RECOUP questions ‘headline-grabbing’ milk bottle switch

Plastics recycling charity RECOUP has questioned supermarket chain Morrisons’ “headline-grabbing” decision to switch the packaging for its own brand milk bottles from plastic to paper.

Some companies, including Morrisons, have recently announced moves away from plastic packaging. (picture: Shutterstock)

Morrisons says the move to Tetra Pak cartons made from plant-based paperboard will reduce plastic and carbon emissions (see letsrecycle.com story).

RECOUP says plastic bottles are collected at the kerbside by every local authority in the UK, while drinks cartons are only collected by around 65%.

The charity added that the multi-material nature of cartons makes them a “more complex option” than natural high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic.

Anne Hitch, RECOUP’s head of citizen and stakeholder strategy, said: “The question of drinks carton recyclability is one that is regularly asked by citizens, and we must consider whether it is right to signpost a product as ‘100% recyclable’ when we know that so many consumers are unable to place the item for recycling at the kerbside.

“This claim sends the opposite message to consumers with the likely unintended consequence of mixed dry recycling contamination.”

The carton industry has long struggled for widespread acceptance for recycling in the UK, although in recent years it has developed a route which sees most cartons recycled at the Sonoco mill in Halifax.

And, while Recoup has highlighted that not all local authorities collect cartons, the government has included cartons in its proposals for consistent collections from the kerbside, meaning they should be accepted more widely in the future (see letsrecycle.com story).


Morrisons’ Tetra Pak packaging will feature a ‘Carbon Neutral’ label accredited by the Carbon Trust, intended to recognise the CO2 reduction of the move and certify its cradle-to-grave carbon footprint.

Morrisons’ Tetra Pak packaging will feature a ‘Carbon Neutral’ label accredited by the Carbon Trust

RECOUP claims it is “unclear” how the carbon neutral status was achieved.

The charity says there would be an environmental impact associated with the extraction and conversion of paperboard and sugarcane-based PE into useable packaging materials, as well as any transport- and disposal-related impacts throughout the supply chain.

RECOUP notes that the Competition and Markets Authority guidance on environmental claims states that they should be “truthful, accurate, clear unambiguous, fair and meaningful”.

The charity called for “more clarity and evidence” to support Morrisons’ claims, in particular for the metrics used.


Steve Morgan, head of policy and infrastructure at RECOUP, said: “The packaging of the carton option is misleading to consumers as they see two ticks and a nice footprint – suggesting a product with minimal environmental impact.

Steve Morgan is head of policy and infrastructure at RECOUP

“Soil, water, energy use and the waste and recycling infrastructure all need to be considered when looking at a products’ overall environmental credentials.

“Cartons might have an environmentally sound outcome in some packaging applications, but certainly not this one.”

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