UK lags behind on carton recycling

Recycling of beverage cartons in western Europe rose by four percentage points to 21% in 1997, according to the industry's trade body, the Alliance for Beverage Cartons in Europe (ACE). However, the recovery rate fell from 41% to 37% - and the UK experiment with carton recycling appears to have ground to a halt.

As an example of "one-way" packaging, beverage cartons have come under fire from environmental groups for many years. However, a recent study for the European Commission on the use of life-cycle assessment in packaging waste policy found that they have one of the lowest environmental impacts of all types of drinks packaging - though for large containers it assumed a recycling rate of 70% (ENDS Report 276, pp 23-26 ).

Consumption of beverage cartons in western Europe - the EC plus Norway and Switzerland - rose from around 590,000 tonnes in 1996 to 823,000 tonnes in 1997. Of the 164,000 tonnes recycled in the EC, the majority (77%) was reprocessed in Germany - where legislation required industry to recycle 64% of composite packaging last year.

ACE released country recycling data for the first time last year (ENDS Report 267, p 15 ) which show the UK lagging well behind.

There was a significant increase in the quantity of cartons recycled in the EC, up from 100,000 tonnes in 1996 to 164,000 tonnes last year. This was due to the mandatory recycling targets for composite packaging in Germany and Austria, with Germany again accounting for the lion's share of recycling in 1997, up from 90,000 tonnes in 1996 to 126,000 tonnes.

In the UK, the Liquid Food Carton Manufacturers Association (LFCMA) believes that the recovery rate was unchanged in 1997 at 4%, (see table ) with 2,600 tonnes recovered. Last year's reported recovery rate of 11% was a major overestimate because consumption was estimated to be 45,000 tonnes, rather than 65,000 tonnes.

Some 33 tonnes of cartons were collected separately in the UK last year, according to the LFCMA, down from 115 tonnes the year before. "We have no capacity for recycling polyethylene coated board in this country," said a spokeswoman. "All we can do is send cartons to mills with sieving systems."

  • The paper packaging compliance scheme, Paperpak, is likely to fund an extension of a pilot project launched in Kent last year to collect paper packaging from households. Collections are currently confined to a few local authorities, such as Kingston, plus bring banks at three Safeway stores. Paperpak says that one of the scheme's original sponsors, Repak, a firm set up to promote cardboard recycling, has ceased to operate.

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