Collection and recycling of beverage cartons in the Netherlands; pilot beverage cartons

The Dutch second Packaging Framework Agreement for 2013-2022 establishes that in the coming years, businesses must recycle more packaging material and make the packaging chain more sustainable. One of the agreements in the Framework Agreement was that by late 2013, a representative number of Dutch municipalities will have carried out a pilot study on the collection and recycling of beverage cartons. The pilot study involved both municipalities which apply source separation for plastic and/or beverage cartons collection and municipalities which recover the beverage cartons from municipal waste (MSW).

Together with Kennisinstituut Duurzaam Verpakken ('Sustainable packaging knowledge institute') four research organisations, including Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research, carried out a pilot study on beverage cartons in 2013. Approximately 70 kilotonnes of beverage cartons are marketed in the Netherlands. This works out to approximately 2.5 billion beverage cartons. The pilot study looked at the quality and amounts of beverage cartons collected for recycling, the costs, the environmental performance of collection and recycling and the effect on other collection systems. Information about the entire study and the other sub-studies is available in the report Resultaten van de Pilot Drankenkartons ('Results of the pilot beverage cartons) by the Kennisinstituut Duurzaam Verpakken  and the sub-reports.

Collection of beverage cartons

Food & Biobased Research worked with the Department of Processing and Recycling at RWTH Aachen University to chart the pilot study's chain yields. To this end, they drew up a complete technological description of the four systems for collecting and processing beverage cartons. The collection systems described are: separate collection, co-collection with plastics, co-collection with old paper and cardboard and recovery from MSW. Twelve existing and 25 newly reorganised municipalities, comprising 40 collection areas, participated in the pilot study. In addition, a large number of municipalities in the north of the Netherlands, comprising two areas which use separation at the recycling plant, also participated in the pilot study. The study shows that the beverage cartons can be collected and recycled using the four collection systems studied.

Chain yields

The reuse chains consist of a maximum of four steps

  • collection
  • recovery from MSW
  • sorting
  • recycling

The chain yields are calculated by multiplying the yields from each relevant step. The first step, collection, is where the greatest losses occur. The net collection percentage varies per municipality and per system. The net collection yields are determined by a number of factors, including the degree of urbanisation, the implementation of the system (aspects like service level and communication) and the available place where the beverage cartons are stored prior to collection. The highest collection yields were obtained through co-collection with plastic in municipalities with primarily low-rise homes. Municipalities with too few collection facilities and high-rise neighbourhoods obtained the lowest yields.

The other three steps (recovery from MSW, sorting and recycling) are machine-based process steps which can be carried out with high yields. The final chain yields ranged between 15% and 60%. These chain yields are weighted averages for groups of municipalities, so the chain yields for individual municipalities may be higher or lower.

No significant differences in the quality of the recycled fibres were detected among the four collection systems. The fibres of this reclaimed pulp are relatively strong. A suitable application for this pulp is the manufacturing of corrugated cardboard boxes.

The insights described above are valid for the pilot study carried out in 2013. Improvements and optimisations in the collection and recycling chain are possible, and this could make chain yields higher in the future.