New research commissioned by Zero Waste Europe to Eunomia Research & Consulting suggests the actual beverage carton recycling rate in four European countries is far below what is currently being 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%, according to the research.
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.
Challenging to recycle
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 suggests 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 reuse and 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 industrial scale.”
An ACE spokesperson said: “The calculation method used in this report is a new methodology, which has been mandated in the revised EU Packaging legislation. It is due to be implemented from 2021 onwards and will lead to a drop of reported recycling rates for most packaging.
“The beverage carton recycling rates reported for 2019 by the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment in Europe were calculated using the existing EU methodology for the reporting of recycling rates for composite packaging (EC/2005/70) and are fully compliant with this methodology.
“The beverage carton industry welcomes a move to harmonised and clearer measurement methodologies for all materials. Our industry is committed to significantly increasing the recycling of beverage cartons and supports collection and recycling of its packaging, including through ongoing innovation in reprocessing technology across Europe.
“In the UK, the industry supports local authorities to implement kerbside collection of beverage cartons, runs a nationwide bring bank service and has developed a recycling facility for beverage cartons.
“This report underlines the need for mandatory kerbside collection and sorting and the industry has actively advocated for specific beverage carton recycling targets at national level to help drive increased recycling rates for cartons.
“We are very pleased that, at last, the UK will soon be implementing policies and systems that are fit for purpose in achieving the levels of recycling performance needed for a circular economy. We now need these to ensure that all recyclable materials will be collected for recycling.”
Read the full report here.