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UK needs to maintain recycling momentum

Source: Public Sector Executive May/June 2013

Fay Dashper, recycling operations manager at the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) UK, says local authorities face a challenge trying to maintain momentum on recycling.

Recycling is part of everyday life and has been transformed from an ideology to part of people’s daily routines in just over a decade. Recycling is taught in schools, clothes can be made from recycled materials and it’s even become an area of huge political wrangling – illustrated by the diverse reaction to Cardiff Council’s proposal to bring in clear bin bags to spot and shame residents who don’t recycle their waste.

Over the last decade, the UK’s municipal recycling rate has grown the fastest in Europe – from just 12% in 2001 to the European average of 39% in 2010. Currently at 43%, we are well on course to meet the 50% European target by 2020 – testimony to the hard work of local government. It’s great that the UK is doing so well, but the real challenge is maintaining momentum, especially as local authority budgets remain under such pressure.

Some countries, such as Norway and Finland, have actually slipped back in recent years. The UK needs to avoid regression, not simply to ensure its targets are met, but also to ensure valuable resources aren’t wasted. Janez Potočnik, the EU commissioner for the environment, has previously warned that failure to use resources wisely could trigger a fresh economic crisis. The current intense demand for some materials that are still heading for landfill should keep us focused on the clear economic, as well as environmental opportunities in viewing waste as a resource.

To meet the 50% target we need to encourage resident participation by making it as easy as possible for them to recycle their waste, and communicate effectively about collections and where material is actually recycled. All too often the information given on where items are recycled is either wrong or misleading.

The Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE) UK can help in this process – we are committed to making it as easy as possible for residents to recycle their beverage cartons, and are working with local authorities to achieve this. Our dedicated recycling team offers advice and support to local authorities, including a toolkit of resources that can be used to educate, inform and engage residents about beverage carton recycling.

Encouraging residents to recycle more delivers a number of attractive benefits for local authorities, from saving money to reducing their carbon footprint, and the opening of the UK’s only beverage carton recycling facility gives local authorities the chance to take advantage of these.

Located at Sonoco Alcore’s paper mill near Halifax, West Yorkshire, the facility offers a UK solution for collected beverage cartons, avoiding the need to export them to Sweden or even further afield. This is great news for those local authorities with policies that prohibit exporting materials for recycling as it provides the opportunity to divert waste that would otherwise be sent for disposal.

Keeping cartons in the UK also lowers transport emissions by reducing the road and shipping miles that used beverage cartons travel to be recycled into new products – an average annual C02 saving of 122 tonnes.(1)

The new facility delivers financial incentives too. It allows many local authorities to avoid the financial headache of landfill tax and gate fees and at the same time creates a local market price for beverage cartons. This will help avoid the volatility of price fluctuations on the open market and could reduce landfill tax and gate fees by a total of £3.6m.(2) The fibre layer from used cartons will be turned into coreboard, ready to make cores and tubes for consumer and industrial applications, such as cling film, textiles and paper. Unlocking these resources results in value being created at all stages of the supply chain, through a dedicated recycling route with a very short chain of custody. Therefore, local authorities will be able to help maximise the resource efficiency of beverage cartons, with materials fl owing back into the UK economy whilst lowering cost and carbon emissions.

Beverage carton recycling is growing and, with benefits for all involved, we believe the new recycling facility can provide another boost to UK recycling rates. As we focus on meeting the 50% target, there are clear opportunities to keep driving recycling participation and become a benchmark for other countries to meet.


1. If all road miles from all collection hubs in the UK to Sweden (April 2011 – May 2012) are added together, this equates to a saving of about 26,858 miles, which in turn represents a saving of 116 tonnes of CO2. And 86,819 fewer sea miles will save a further 6 tonnes of CO2. The total saving is therefore 122 tonnes of CO2.

2. If local authorities switch they will avoid £72 per tonne in landfill tax alone. On top of that, landfill operators charge gate fees for waste disposal (which can range between £20 and £80 per tonne).

Indeed, if the UK plant runs at full capacity of 25,000 tonnes, this will potentially reduce landfill taxes and gate fees (average) by £3,600,000 based on landfill tax for 2013.


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