Why kerbside matters for carton collection

Carton recycling has come a long way in recent years, but barriers still remain at the kerbside for many local authorities. Fay Dashper explains why

Many local authorities have witnessed a dramatic shift in carton recycling since 2007, when Tetra Pak first came in for criticism for the lack of UK carton recycling infrastructure. Following a direct challenge from M&S to improve carton recycling, Tetra Pak and industry body Alliance for Beverage Cartons & the Environment (ACE UK) have since devoted significant funding to create a recycling network from scratch.

With 86% of councils already committed to recycling cartons, at Tetra Pak we are focusing our attention on increasing kerbside coverage. Over a quarter of authorities (27%) now collect cartons at kerbside – but adoption of this can represent a far more challenging process. The biggest challenge in adding cartons to the kerbside mix is the funding structure within contracts.

This challenge is made harder by the looming prospect of government spending cuts later in the year. We are determined to support councils wherever possible and have provided an assurance that we will cover the cost of exporting single stream cartons for reprocessing in Scandinavia. The depressed market for recycled carton materials has discouraged some from adopting carton recycling and until UK values rise to meet the European average, it remains difficult to boost the recycling rates in many local authority areas.

But there’s also a distinction to be drawn between source-separated and co-mingled methods. For those including cartons in source-separated collections, space in the recycling vehicles is a significant issue. This space is already at a premium; adding cartons takes up precious capacity, which can create difficulties for some. While we understand these concerns, including cartons at the kerbside is the most effective way of driving up recycling.

Many councils have switched to carton recycling collections as part of their co-mingled service. Viridor and Greenstar are ‘pro-carton’ and collect them as part of the fibre mix within their MRFs. Other MRFs collect single stream cartons that Tetra Pak picks up free of charge and sends onto Scandinavia for reprocessing. Of all of the councils collecting cartons at the kerbside, 86% collect co-mingled waste and 14% undertake kerbside sort.

Let’s not forget carton bring bank coverage. We continue to fund carton recycling bring banks across the country with current funds secured until the end of 2010. However, the switch from bring banks to kerbside raises the question: what happens to the bring banks? Our research has found there is a dramatic drop in bring bank usage once kerbside collections start. With this in mind, we work with councils to agree a timeline for bring bank removal once kerbside collections have been started.

On balance, switching to kerbside reaps rewards for carton recycling. We typically see a 60% return for councils collecting at kerbside, compared with 10-15% for bring banks. Tetra Pak is now pursuing a UK reprocessing opportunity – something which hasn’t been on the table for years. It remains our aspiration to have UK reprocessing and we will keep councils updated on progress.

Fay Dashper is recycling operations manager at Tetra Pakﯻ

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