Despite improvements to curbside carton recycling, lack of access for consumers is the major problem that the industry faces in upping recycling rates, according to the US Carton Council.
The council - its members are Elopak, SIG, Evergreen Packaging and Tetra Pak; Weyerhaeuser is an associate member - recently touted curbside collection access improvements, which mean that 36 per cent of US citizens now have access to services, up from 1 per cent only two years ago.
But asked about levels of consumer understanding regarding carton sustainability, a Carton Council spokewoman told FoodProductionDaily.com: “The major challenge cartons face is that they have been excluded from curbside recycling programs in the United States for many years.
She added: “Thus, recyclers and non-recyclers are often confused about what cartons are, what they are made of, how they can be recycled, and the value of the materials recovered from cartons.”
But the spokeswoman said that attitudes were now changing, partly as a result of the council’s ‘Carton Recycling Access Campaign’, and the addition of cartons to over 2,000 recycling programmes.
A recent partnership with Earth911 – one of the main US online resources for recycling information, was a “natural fit” to ensure the public was well-informed about cartons, she added.
She said: “Our consumer awareness campaigns are in early stages of development and are focused on the simple message that cartons are recyclable and then linking them to local recycling services.”
Efforts to push up the 36 per cent figure were also underway, according to the Carton Council, since the spokeswoman identified the need for an “infrastructure and mindset change”, as the industry aimed for 50 per cent access to curbside carton recycling by 2020.
The spokeswoman said the Carton Council would continue to work with key stakeholders to increase collection rates, ensure processors/sorters had the necessary equipment, that there were brokers to help sorters move carton to mills.
She said that, since 2009, the Carton Council had increased the number of mills processing cartons from 1 to 9 in North America, she said, and added equipment to around 50 sorters.
Lack of recycling data
However, even calculating the percentage of US cartons recycled was difficult, according to the Carton Council, whose two-pronged strategy involves (1) upping curbside recycling access, and (2) growing the tonnage of recovered cartons.
Asked about current US carton recycling rates, the spokeswoman said: “That data is actually very difficult to get here in the US (unlike Canada and European countries), since facility reporting is not required.”
She added: “We are working to develop the capacity to track the carton recycling rate. We do know that cartons are less than 1 per cent of the waste stream, and that the current recovery rate for all cartons is less than 15 per cent.”
Refrigerated cartons comprise paperboard (80 per cent) and thin layers of polyethylene (20 per cent); shelf stable cartons contain paperboard (around 74 per cent), 22 per cent polyethylene and 4 per cent aluminium.