Taking Up the Challenge: The Beverage Carton Industry Drives Transformation for Sustainable Packaging

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

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Packaging is part of our daily life and offers essential benefits: protecting food and beverages, allowing their safe use and transport, and preventing food waste.

The beverage carton industry believes packaging can, and should, contribute to mitigating the biggest global challenge: climate change, while not compromising on food safety.

Our industry has the ambition to deliver a recyclable, low carbon packaging solution that plays an essential role in enabling food supply systems; for today and tomorrow. We do not only want to meet EU legislative requirements but also address the current global challenge.

How do Beverage Cartons Fit in This Landscape?

Beverage cartons are made mostly from renewable resources, such as paperboard, which reduces the strain on fossil resources, and already has lower GHG emissions than other alternative packaging solutions for their core category; milk and juice. This is notably due to the fact that beverage cartons are lightweight packaging that contributes to transport efficiency (quantity packed and transported), resulting in minimal packaging material per product and more items transported per truck. This was recently demonstrated in a 2020 meta LCA study undertaken by  Circular Analytics.

Beverage cartons have a lower carbon footprint_Infographic

 

All beverage cartons can be recycled. Currently, around 20 paper mills across Europe recycle collected beverage cartons and recycling beverage cartons is a straightforward process. The first step is to separate the fibres from the packaging through dissolving technology in a paper mill. Once recycled, the fibres are used to produce new paper products, while the remaining aluminium and polymers can be recycled and used for a variety of other new applications.

The recycling of all components of beverage cartons in the EU is growing. The long fibres used in beverage cartons are welcomed by recycling mills, while the polymers and aluminium increasingly find their way to recycling plants in Italy, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

In addition to these plants, the beverage cartons converters have invested in a dedicated plant to recycle the plastic/aluminium (PolyAl) component of beverage cartons, Palurec GmbH, now operational in Cologne, Germany. As of today, these projects allow roughly 50,000 tonnes of non-fibre components of beverage cartons to be recycled annually (about 30% of the collected volume), and a significant increase in capacity is planned for the near future.

The beverage carton industry is proud of these developments, but wishes to continue its sustainability journey, and to do so has adopted a vision and commitments for the future.

The Industry’s Vision for 2030 and Beyond

The industry vision is to deliver the most sustainable packaging for resilient food supply systems, which is renewable, climate positive and circular.

The Beverage Carton Industry Roadmap to 2030 and beyond sets ambitious commitments and targets to take action on across the industry’s value chain, from sustainable sourcing to climate impact and recycling. By 2030, the industry specifically aims to increase the collection for recycling rate to 90% and the recycling rate of beverage cartons to 70%, while decarbonising the industry’s value chain in line with the 1.5º C target.

The Beverage Carton Roadmap to 2030 and Beyond

The Beverage Carton Roadmap to 2030 and Beyond. Click on the image for more information!

 

The industry is committed to innovate and take action to reach these ambitious commitments and targets, but we also need an enabling policy framework that secures packaging waste collection, provides an incentive for low carbon packaging solutions, and for different partners of the value chain to work together.

Effective collection and sorting is the precondition to recycling

The industry strongly believes that an EU-wide mandatory collection target for key materials and packaging formats is essential to ensure that all packaging is duly collected and recycled while ensuring no material is disadvantaged. By collecting all packaging materials separately, the volume of materials available for recycling is significantly increased, providing a more predictable, and higher quality waste stream and contributing to the achievement of national recycling targets.

A beverage carton collection target will support transparency for collected/recycled materials and accurate reporting of collection and/or recycling rates in the EU statistics registrar (EUROSTAT).

The Packaging of Tomorrow

Our industry will strive for its packaging to continue to contribute towards the ambitions of the EU Green Deal, with a particular focus on climate neutrality, circularity, biodiversity and safeguarding resilient food systems, while not compromising on health and safety for consumers.

The industry looks forward to reporting on its progress towards ensuring your beverage carton:

  1. Meets the industry’s vision of being renewable, climate positive and circular;
  2. Is supported by the effective collection and sorting methods, the pre-condition for recycling;
  3. Is supported by an enabling policy framework to further industry innovation and investment to meet consumers expectations.

 

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