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Zero Waste Europe Study: beverage carton recycling rates substantially lower than reported

New research commissioned by Zero Waste Europe to Eunomia Research & Consulting has revealed that the actual beverage carton recycling rate in four European countries is far below that 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).

The UK actually recycled 29.5% of their cartons, significantly lower than ACE's estimates of 36%.

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 has recycled 21.9% of its cartons, down from ACE's estimates of 33%.

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.’


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