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UK's only beverage carton recycling plant opens for business

11 September 2013

Minister for Resource Management, Lord de Mauley, has officially opened the UK's only dedicated beverage carton recycling facility, located in Stainland (near Halifax), West Yorkshire.

Capable of recycling up to 40% (25,000 tonnes) of the cartons manufactured each year for the UK food and drink market, the new plant is expected to significantly boost recycling rates. Approximately 1.25billion cartons could be recycled - laid end-to-end these would wrap around the circumference of the earth six times.

The plant is a joint initiative between the Alliance for Beverage Cartons & the Environment (ACE) UK - representing beverage carton manufacturers Tetra Pak, Elopak and SIG Combibloc - and paper and packaging producer Sonoco Alcore.

Sonoco Alcore says it will take advantage of the strength and quality of the virgin wood fibres found in cartons by turning them into industrial strength 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.

As the new facility offers numerous benefits to local authorities, kerbside collection of beverage cartons and UK carton recycling rates are expected to increase dramatically - making it easier for consumers to recycle their carton packaging. 

According to Sonoco, the four key benefits are: 

  • A clearly defined domestic end destination for used beverage cartons - local authorities and residents can be assured their waste is being recycled in the UK. Previously, the best available solution for recycling used cartons was to export them to Europe
  • A stable price per tonne for cartons delivered - a  better, more sustainable option compared to the price fluctuations on the global commodities market
  • A reduction in road and rail miles travelled by used beverage cartons for them to be recycled. Previously cartons collected through ACE UK bring banks were recycled at mills in Sweden. Recycling cartons at the new UK facility instead will lead to an estimated annual reduction of 122 tonnes of transport-related CO2
  • An opportunity for local authorities with no-export policies on waste to recycle cartons in the UK, rather than send them to landfill. When running at its full capacity of 25,000 tonnes per annum, the UK carton recycling facility has the potential to reduce landfill taxes and gate fees for local authorities by £3.6million (based on 2013 levels) - offering better value for council tax payers.
Lord de Mauley, Minister for Resource Management, said: "Dealing with waste and recycling properly is not only good for the environment but can boost economic growth and create jobs. This new recycling plant is an exciting development and I'm delighted to see businesses working together to improve our ability to recycle more here in the UK. There is a huge global market for waste and recycling and I want to see UK businesses leading the way on this and helping us compete in the global race."

Cartons collected in over 180 local authority areas are already set to come to the new facility for recycling. By the end of 2013, ACE UK expects another 10 local authorities to start collecting cartons in their kerbside service and send them to the carton recycling facility.

Richard Hands, chief executive, ACE UK, added: "The ultimate aim of our members -Tetra Pak, Elopak and SIG Combibloc - is to meet the requirements of retailers, manufacturers and consumers for packaging that is easy to recycle. Kerbside recycling schemes provide the most convenient collection method for consumers and we expect more cartons to be collected in this way now that local authorities have a secure domestic market for this material stream.

"While we have already made great progress - the number of local authorities collecting cartons at the kerbside has increased more than ten-fold in the last six years - we're really excited by this development and its potential to further transform carton recycling in the UK."

Adam Wood, vice president - Industrial Converting Europe, Sonoco Alcore, said: "Sonoco Alcore will use the high-quality fibres from collected cartons to produce paperboard. This paperboard is used to manufacture our tubes and cores, which are also recyclable. The new carton recycling facility is capable of producing enough material each year for 15,500 tonnes of new coreboard, enough to make 17.8 million average-sized cores and provide a consistently secure supply of material for our Company."

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. Several different approaches for recycling and/or recovering this fraction are currently being assessed and a UK solution will be in place in 2014. The polythene and aluminium will be stored until then - it will not be landfilled or exported.

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