The association created a bring bank collection system for beverage cartons in 2007 as the first stage of a strategy to increase recycling in the UK.
Tetra Pak, Elopak, SIG Combibloc
At the time, 10% of local authorities collected beverage cartons for recycling but by mid-2007, 65% were using the bring-bank system, with the remaining 25% sending cartons to landfill or energy from waste.
Now, 92% of local authorities collect beverage cartons for recycling – 66% from the kerbside and 26% via bring banks – and 8% sending cartons to landfill or energy from waste.
“The last 10 years has seen a huge increase in beverage carton recycling,” said Mandy Kelly, senior recycling manager, ACE UK.
“There have been some amazing highlights along the way, with perhaps the most important being the opening of our own reprocessing plant in 2013.
“Supported by our members Tetra Pak, Elopak and SIG Combibloc, we entered into an agreement with Sonoco Alcore to create the UK’s only dedicated beverage carton recycling facility. Situated in Stainland, West Yorkshire, the facility is capable of recycling 25,000 tonnes of cartons per year, and currently receives cartons from 35%of UK local authorities.”
The last decade has also seen ACE UK develop its own recycling team, offering practical advice and support to waste companies and local authorities wanting to move to kerbside collection as well as promotional materials for councils to engage with residents.
“Our next target is for 75% of local authorities to collect beverage cartons at kerbside – but bring banks still have a role to play,” added Kelly.
“The priority is to have as many recycling opportunities as possible – but these opportunities must be delivered efficiently, generate the right quality of material and encourage the greatest amount of recycling.”
One of the challenges ACE UK faced was generating easy-to-understand information, active communications and recycling engagement from households opposed to the pressure local authorities had to reduce expenditure.
“Communications budgets have often been a casualty of this pressure to save costs and preserve front line services, but this has ultimately had an impact on recycling rates,” said Kelly.
ACE UK was able to provide support in this area by developing a range of materials and free giveaway ‘goodies’ for councils, under its ‘re:cartons’ campaign. It also championed the development of consistent collection regimes.
“It is widely acknowledged that countries with the highest recycling rates are those with standardized collection regimes, providing clarity for the public around what can be recycled and where,” added Kelly.
“For example, in those countries that have clear methods of separation for waste, beverage carton recycling rates are as high as 70%.”
In contrast, the UK has a disparate infrastructure for recycling because each local authority has its own system, making it difficult for residents to know what can be recycled, how and where.
To tackle this problem, ACE UK welcomed WRAP’s (Waste and Resources Action Programme, a UK charity) publication of the ‘Framework for greater consistency in household recycling in England’, and was involved in the preparation and agreement of the WRAP National Recycling guidelines, launched in October 2017 providing advice on the recycling of food and drink cartons.
The reprocessing plant, a joint initiative between ACE UK and Sonoco Alcore, which opened in 2013 is capable of recycling up to 40% (25,000 tonnes) of the cartons manufactured each year for the UK food and drink market.
Sonoco Alcore turns the virgin wood fibres found in cartons into coreboard at its paper mill located on the same site. This is then made into 100% recyclable tubes and cores, which are used to wrap paper, man-made fibre yarns, and metal and plastic film around for industrial applications.
The fine polymer and aluminium layers used in beverage cartons (the latter only for long-life products), to prevent leakage and provide a protective barrier to oxygen (respectively), are also separated as part of the recycling process.
“The carton recycling facility is capable of producing enough material each year for 15,500 tonnes of coreboard, enough to make 17.8 million average-sized cores and provide a consistently secure supply of material for our company,” said Adam Wood, VP, Industrial Converting Europe, Sonoco Alcore.