A simple step to saving 1m tons of CO2 by 2030

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Recycling Starts with collection [ACE]

Beverage cartons play an important role in a sustainable and low-carbon circular economy in Europe. It comes as no surprise then that ACE, the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment, is strongly committed to a low carbon circular economy.

Beverage cartons are recyclable and already recycled at scale, but we know there is certainly an opportunity for growth if the correct collection infrastructure is implemented across the EU. To that end, the industry is calling for an EU-wide collection target of 90% in support of its Roadmap to 2030 and Beyond.

The collection of beverage cartons is the first step to their recycling. We can already see this in action in the certain Member States, with existing collection targets for beverage cartons leading to an increase in recycling rates across Europe (51% in 2019 [1]). A collection for recycling target would bring a harmonized approach across the EU when it comes to collecting beverage cartons and would lead to an increase in this overall rate.

An increase in collection volumes through a 90% mandatory collection target raises the question on whether the required infrastructure is in place to process this increase.

There is already a strong and extensive network of recycling mills in place, and the beverage carton industry has long supported investments in collection and recycling infrastructure itself. In parallel, the many private investments also show the business case for beverage carton recycling. However, these investments will only be viable if there is an enabling EU policy framework in place to secure the flow of collected beverage cartons.

[1]

A new study from Roland Berger [2] supports a view long held by ACE: a mandatory legislative beverage carton collection target for recycling is critical for the EU. The numbers speak for themselves: according to the study, a mandatory beverage carton collection target of 90% for beverage cartons would contribute substantially to the EU’s 85% target recycling rate for paper packaging and board, as well as leading to a considerable reduction (around ~1M tons) of CO2e at an EU level by 2030.

Greenhouse gas emissions would be between ~190k tons to ~340k tons reduction per year, significant savings which would contribute to the EU’s climate ambitions. A big saving by anyone’s estimates.

In addition, the Roland Berger study demonstrates that if an EU wide collection target of 90% were to be implemented, in 2030, this would result in ~1,140 k tons reduction of CO2e emissions (vs. 800 k tons with no collection target).[3]

Furthermore, each 1 percentage-point increase in beverage carton recycling equates to roughly 10,400 fewer cars on the road and in 2030, savings would equate to ~900K – 1M  cars off the road.[4]

It’s a win-win situation as these huge environmental benefits would have little administrative burden on Member State budgets.

 

Looking more broadly, setting an ambitious 90% collection for recycling target would re-establish the level playing field between competing beverage packaging and correct the market distortions brought about by the SUPD 90% collection target for plastic bottles, for example.

Although there is definitely room for further infrastructure to be built, the benefits of a 90% mandatory EU collection target are clear when it comes to enabling the leading role beverage cartons can fully play in a sustainable and circular economy for Europe. As we’ve seen, these benefits go beyond simply increasing the recycling rates of an already low-carbon, sustainably sourced, recyclable and recycled at scale packaging solution.

Concretely, if a mandatory collection target rate will help reduce CO2e emissions so substantially year-on- year, thus helping the EU achieving its Green Deal climate neutrality and circular economy ambitions, what are we waiting for in terms of making this a reality?

 

[1] On average, based on the then calculation method

[2] Commissioned by ACE

[3] Impact assessment study of an EU-wide collection target for beverage cartons, Roland Berger 2022

[4] Impact assessment study of an EU-wide collection target for beverage cartons, Roland Berger 2022

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