Cartons have edged ahead of plastics in the environmental responsibility stakes, with the environment minister opening the UK's first carton recycling plant and, in the same week, warning that local authorities and processors are not doing enough to support plastics recycling.
Last month, the UK's first beverage carton recycling plant officially opened in Fife, Scotland. The facility is operated by Smith Anderson, but partly financed by the Liquid Food Carton Manufacturers Association (LFCMA).
The LFCMA optimistically claims that the plant "brings UK recycling standards into line with the rest of Europe". But in fact, while no beverage carton recycling has taken place in the UK up to now, the 'old' European Union (EU) has achieved average rates of around 30%, according to Tetra Pak UK, with Germany managing an impressive 66%. The company estimates that the Smith Anderson plant would be able to handle up to 20% of the UK's post-consumer cartons. The new capacity will no doubt give the carton's environmental profile with consumers and brands a tremendous boost. This contrasts with plastics' far less positive message at the moment.
Environment minister Elliott Morley, who opened the Scottish plant, told the plastics industry: "The UK will struggle to meet the Directive targets unless local authorities and those involved in the packaging regulations work together to find ways of extracting more packaging from the household waste stream." He was speaking at the AGM of Recoup, the organisation which promotes the recycling of used plastics.
The EU Directive targets require countries to recycle specific proportions of different packaging materials, and not merely resort to broader 'recovery' options. But local authorities' priorities are likely to be different.
As Tetra Pak's UK environment manager Richard Hands explains: "Only a small number of local authorities collect cartons."