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Carton sector acknowledges reported EU recycling rates will fall

The claimed ‘recyclability’ of the beverage carton in the EU is challenged in a report from the Brussels NGO Zero Waste Europe (ZWE).

Research based on new methodology being adopted by the European Commission suggest the claimed overall recycling rates for the EU of 51% and those in Member States are too high. Under the present methodology, for example, Germany is credited with 75% when ZWE says it is nearer 48%. Other case studies in the report are Spain (21% instead of 80%), Sweden (22% instead of 33%) and the UK (30% instead of 36%)

The ZWE report was prepared by the Eunomia consultancy which points out that while the ‘placed on the market’ weight is pure packaging, the ‘recycled’ weight often includes other elements such as food and drink remaining in items of packaging, dirt and other contaminants.

‘This “non-packaging” material, which is subsequently removed during the sorting and recycling process, can nonetheless represent a significant proportion of the mass of material counted as recycled packaging,’ the report asserts.

‘Under the EU’s new measurement method for recycling, all such process losses will have to be deducted from material counted within recycling figures.’ The new rules, issued in 2019, also require each material used in composite packaging to be assessed separately.

ZWE also points out that beverage cartons must be processed at one of 20 specialised paper mills in Europe. ‘The processing capacities of the specialist mills – combined with their geographical coverage and process losses – is one of the factors impacting the recycling rate for beverage cartons in each country. The polymer/aluminium fraction currently cannot be recycled in the countries researched and so is typically sent for incineration or co-incineration.’

A spokesperson for the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment UK (ACE UK), reported in the UK media, acknowledges the calculations in the ZWE report reflect the new methodology, which is 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 ACE in Europe were calculated using the existing EU methodology for the reporting of recycling rates for composite packaging and are fully compliant with this methodology.’

ACE UK says it 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 on-going innovation in reprocessing technology across Europe.’

‘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.’

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