Zero Waste Europe: beverage carton recycling rates substantially lower than reported
The ‘Recycling of multilayer composite packaging: the beverage carton’ paper calculated the estimated recycling rates of beverage cartons in the UK, Germany, Spain, and Sweden in 2020 using the European Union’s updated recycling calculation methodology.
The new analysis estimated Germany’s actual recycling rate to be 47.8%, rather than the 75% recycling rate and 87.4% collection rate communication by the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE).
Spain’s estimated carton recycling rate was significantly lower at 21.5%, down from ACE’s estimate of 80% against a collection rate of 51.2%.
Sweden and the UK were estimated to have recycled 21.9% and 29.5% of their cartons, down from ACE’s estimates of 33% and 36%, respectively.
Beverage cartons are particularly challenging to recycle due to their complex make-up. While the materials used are technically recyclable, the format of the carton, which usually involves bonded layers of card, plastic polymers and aluminium, makes it difficult to separate these materials for recycling and reprocessing.
The report also found that difficulty in identifying and separating beverage cartons in material sorting facilities, as well as the lack of processing capacity at specialised recycling facilities, has also impacted on the recycling rate.
Commenting on the report, Joan Marc Simon, Director at Zero Waste Europe, said: “Whilst plastic has been in the spotlight for its low collection and recycling rates, this study shows that other complex materials such as cartons are not doing much better. With new EU-wide mandatory recycling targets, and a new associated recycling calculation method, the EU must develop clear guidelines and methodologies to ensure real recyclability. Consumers are confused by so many false recyclability claims by the industry, so we must:
- Ensure that producers of complex packaging place circularity at the heart of the design process,
- Mobilise investment towards recycling infrastructure;
- Implement effective collection and sorting systems, such as deposit return schemes;
- Have a single, reliable, widely recognised recyclability label for packaging purposes, with attribution depending on the characteristics of the product and on the collection and recycling technologies currently available at industry level.”