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Recycling in Europe

New report finds drinks carton recycling rates are substantially lower than reported
Recycling in Europe

Recycling rates for beverage cartons across Europe and the UK are substantially lower than reported, according to a new study.

New research commissioned by Zero Waste Europe to Eunomia Research & Consulting has revealed that the actual beverage carton recycling rate in four European countries is far below the figure currently being reported. 
The ‘Recycling of multilayer composite packaging: the beverage carton’ paper calculated the estimated recycling rates of beverage cartons in the UK, Germany, Spain and Sweden in 2020 using the European Union’s updated recycling calculation methodology.

Recycling rates in Europe

The new analysis estimated Germany’s actual recycling rate to be 47.8%, rather than the 75% recycling rate and 87.4% collection rate communication by the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE). 
Spain’s estimated carton recycling rate was significantly lower at 21.5%, down from ACE’s estimate of 80% against a collection rate of 51.2%. 
Sweden and the UK were estimated to have recycled 21.9% and 29.5% of their cartons, down from ACE’s estimates of 33% and 36%, respectively. 

‘Whilst plastic has been in the spotlight for its low collection and recycling rates, this study shows that other complex materials such as cartons are not doing much better. With new EU-wide mandatory recycling targets, and a new associated recycling calculation method, the EU must develop clear guidelines and methodologies to ensure real recyclability. Consumers are confused by so many false recyclability claims by the industry.’

Director at Zero Waste Europe

Recycling difficulties

Beverage cartons are particularly challenging to recycle due to their complex makeup. While the materials used are technically recyclable, the format of the carton, which usually involves bonded layers of card, plastic polymers and aluminium, makes it difficult to separate these materials for recycling and reprocessing. 

The report also found that difficulty in identifying and separating beverage cartons in material sorting facilities, as well as the lack of processing capacity at specialised recycling facilities, has impacted on the recycling rate. 

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