Councils Burn Billions of Cartons Because Recycling is Hard

By Gary Cutlack on at

Part of the vague world of recycling has been exposed as a sham, with around 90 per cent of cardboard cartons -- the tricky ones with the foil linings designed to keep your soup as zingy fresh as the day it was glugged out by the chicken reconstitution centrifuges -- being found to be burnt rather than recycled.

This comes from consultancy firm Intertek, which says only ten per cent of the approximately 200 billion cardboard containers sent for recycling are actually recycled because the foil lining makes it a bit hard. So instead, they are set on fire or taken to the landfill sites anyway, which is exactly what everyone always secretly suspects happens to recycling.

The problem with the foil lined packs is that there's only one pulper in the country that's able to handle the complicated business of getting bits of foil out of mashed up cardboard, so once it's running at full capacity there's no choice other than to set the rest on fire.

The numbers were compiled by Intertek on behalf of Frugalpac, a company with a vested interest in making the other cardboard package manufacturers look like bad boys, as it produces a carton with a removable foil core. [The Times]

Update: A spokesperson for the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) UK, the trade body for carton recycling in the UK got in touch with a comment regarding this story which we've pasted for full disclosure:

ACE UK strongly refutes the claim that drinks cartons are being burnt or sent to landfill instead of being recycled – and the claim that the UK carton recycling rate is 1 in 10.

ACE UK has been operating a UK recycling scheme for beverage cartons for over ten years. There is a dedicated carton recycling plant in Halifax, and cartons are collected for recycling in 92% of UK local authority areas – 67% at kerbside and 25% through bring bank collections. Thirty five per cent of local authorities send cartons to the UK plant, and ACE UK continues to work to increase this number.

The claim that cartons are not being recycled is incorrect and counterproductive, potentially deterring consumers from recycling.

There are approximately three billion cartons sold annually in the UK market, not 200 billion as has been claimed. Currently there is no third-party audited rate for carton recycling in the UK, when an audited figure is available we will make it public, and we are confident that it is substantially higher than the 1 in 10 figures quoted in this report and indeed higher than the global rate of 25%.

The UK carton recycling plant has capacity to handle all carton material currently delivered and when that plant is full we will review the need for additional capacity that may be required. The aluminium and plastic film components of cartons are easily separated at the plant – they are not a barrier to recycling.

The ‘widely recycled’ on pack labelling carried on many cartons refers to collection coverage, which is substantial, with 92% of UK local authority areas collecting cartons for recycling – 67% at kerbside and 25% through bring bank collections.

At the moment 35% of local authorities recycle cartons at the UK recycling plant and the others which do not recycle in the UK export to the global recycling market. Export of packaging to the global market is common place for all packaging not just cartons. We have the advantage of also being able to offer a carton recycling process in the UK. Ultimately it is our goal for all UK local authorities to collect cartons from the household and to recycle them in the UK plant, and we are working tirelessly to achieve this.

This report contains major inaccuracies and appears not to have been third party verified. We work with verifiable peer reviewed data and ACE UK would be happy to comment further on the report if a copy is made available. Consumers can be confident that cartons can and are collected and recycled, and should continue to use kerbside collection or bring bank recycling schemes.

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