Areas for improvement in Dutch beverage carton recycling

Published on
May 17, 2022

The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management commissioned researchers from Wageningen University & Research to calculate the recycling rate of beverage cartons (large and small packaging of milk, yoghurt, custard, juice, soup, sauce, etc.) in the Netherlands. This percentage amounted to 31% in 2020, which is on the low side. The researchers also provided suggestions for improvement, which could increase the recycling rate to around 51% in the most favourable scenario.

Beverage carton recycling currently produces one main product (pulp) from which new cardboard boxes, tubes, and other products can be manufactured. The relatively low recycling rate is the result of a combination of factors: there is no separate recycling target for beverage cartons in the Netherlands and, in addition to that, Dutch beverage cartons are the least clean in comparison to other countries, because we package more yoghurt and custard in beverage cartons. This makes the material less popular with processors.

Opportunities for the increased recycling of beverage cartons

The recycling of beverage cartons could certainly be improved in the coming years. Not all collected and sorted beverage carton material was recycled in 2020, but it was in 2021, marking the first step towards improvement. It also pays to improve the sorting of beverage cartons from LWP (light weight packaging waste) and mechanical recovery from municipal solid waste by developing cleaner input materials and reducing losses in the sorting process. A specialised recycling plant has also recently been opened near Cologne, which reprocesses the floating by-product of beverage carton recycling (called PolyAl) into blended plastic and aluminium – an extra end product in addition to the pulp. PolyAl contains the protective plastic and aluminium layers, the plastic caps, and the “necks” of the cartons. If the PolyAl of Dutch beverage cartons is indeed processed there, another big step forward will be taken which will allow a larger portion of the beverage cartons to be recycled.

Justification of the calculation method according to EU calculation rules

The recycling percentage of Dutch beverage cartons in 2020 was calculated using the calculation rules established in the EU (EU2019/665) and the Dutch Ministry regulation.

The calculation point (the point in the chain where the recycling percentage is to be determined) for Dutch beverage cartons is the amount of wood fibre present in the sorting product "beverage cartons" delivered to the recycling plants, corrected for the natural moisture content of beverage cartons. This means that the recycling rate is approximately 31%. This calculation has some uncertain parameters, which is why a sensitivity analysis has been conducted. This shows that the recycling rate of Dutch beverage cartons was between 24% and 36% in 2020.