ACE UK partners with Cornwall Council to boost beverage carton recycling rates

The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE UK) has partnered with Cornwall Council to open a set of new recycling banks for food and drink cartons and paper coffee cups across the region, in a bid to boost recycling rates for the items.

More than 450 tonnes of cartons and paper cups are put out for waste collection in Cornwall annually, but the Council has had no prior way to recycle them.

As part of the two-year pilot, cartons will now be collected at seven Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) across the county after ACE UK – representing its members Tetra Pak, Elopak and SIG Combibloc – funded a designated recycling bank at each location.  

Residents are encouraged to deposit packaging at the “bring banks”, to be transported to ACE UK’s specialist recycling facility near Halifax. There, a pulping process is used to separate the paperboard and non-fibre layers ready for reuse in new materials.

The move comes after the local authority carried out surveys among residents, which found that the majority of respondents would like to recycle more of their household waste. Respondents cited the fact that cartons and paper cups are currently not collected by the Council’s kerbside collection service as a barrier to their recycling efforts.

“From our conversations with the Council, we know residents are keen to recycle cartons, so we are extremely pleased to install bring banks at these seven sites,” ACE UK’s senior recycling manager, Mandy Kelly, said, highlighting the environmental and financial benefits of processing the waste in the UK.

Of the 80,000 tonnes of waste handled by Cornwall’s HWRC’s, more than half is sent for recycling.

Echoing Kelly’s sentiments, Cornwall Council’s portfolio holder for environment and public protection, Sue James, said residents had been asking for improved recycling infrastructure aimed at food and beverage cartons “for some time”.

In a bid to drive carton recycling further still, James added that the local authority would continue to encourage waste management firms applying for its 2020 kerbside collection contract to consider collecting such items.

Carton network

In the UK, approximately two billion cartons are purchased each year and less than 10% are recycled. Conventional cartons consist of a laminate of several layers of plastic, which is tightly bonded to cardboard, rendering them unable to be processed by most UK recycling plants.

However, the latest ACE UK figures indicate that the kerbside collection of beverage cartons for recycling has seen a 16-fold increase across local authorities in the past decade, with 92% of UK local authorities now collecting cartons for recycling. 

As for the 5,000 paper cups which are discarded in the UK each minute, research suggests that less than 1% are actually recycled. Paper coffee cups are difficult to recycle because they are sealed with a polyethylene (plastic) lining on the interior, which can’t be recycled along with ordinary paper waste by local councils.

In a bid to boost cup recycling rates, a group of major food and drink businesses such as Costa Coffee, McDonald’s UK and Starbucks have signed a joint deal with ACE UK to roll out more than 400 recycling points nationwide.

Indeed, Costa Coffee has led the charge towards circularity in the coffee industry, and has this year pledged to recycle the equivalent of its entire annual sales of takeaway cups – at a financial cost to the business.

Sarah George

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