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Collection and recycling of plastic and cardboard in beverage cartons in Copenhagen

Updated last: 13 May 2014

Pilot on the collection and recycling of plastic in beverage cartons in the City of Copenhagen

In a cooperation with Arla Foods, Tetra Pak and Fiskeby Board, the City of Copenhagen aims to evaluate the possibilities of recycling LDPE plastics from used beverage cartons. The beverage cartons are collected by making use of the city's existing collection scheme for cardboard.  

The aim of the pilot is to clarify the viability of establishing a system for collecting and recycling empty beverage cartons and pizza boxes together with cardboard and carton in residential buildings. Furthermore, the possibility of increasing the collection of cardboard and carton from residential buildings will be investigated.

In the pilot the City of Copenhagen cooperates with:

  • Arla Foods, a global dairy company and a co-operative owned by dairy farmers. They have production facilities in 12 countries and sales offices in a further 30, with a total of more than 18,000 employees.
  • Tetra Pak, a food processing and packaging solutions company supplying more than 170 countries around the world. The company has a total of more than 23,425 employees.
  • Fiskeby Board, a re-processing facility that examines the composition and processes for recycling paper fibres and plastic fibres. The company has a total of more than 280 employees

In Denmark, just about all milk is sold in cartons.  A milk carton is composed of around 80% paper fibre and 20% LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene). A juice carton is composed of 75% paper fibre, 20% LDPE and 5% aluminium.

Today, empty beverage cartons and pizza boxes are collected with the residual waste and used to create energy by incineration. The challenge is to find an appropriate way of recycling the LDPE plastics from the beverage cartons. The City of Copenhagen is testing a new system where the current cardboard and carton collection scheme is extended to include beverage cartons and pizza boxes in a limited area.

 640 Liters Container Beholderlabel

Figure 1.  4-wheel container (640 L) with pilot label: "Cardboard - experiment. This container may tentatively be used for discarded milk and juice cartons and pizza boxes". 

As part of the pilot Tetrapak and Fiskeby Board in Sweden have concluded a pilot project starting in 2013 that aims to "achieve a 75% recycling of plastics from beverage cartons in 2018."

The City of Copenhagen is responsible for planning, organising, collection and baling of the cardboard and beverage carton waste from 4,500 households over a period of 6 months. In Copenhagen the residents in flats sort their waste for collection in 11 waste streams. The majority of individual source-separated waste streams are collected in containers from the residents' shared courtyard.

All 4,500 participating households were informed at the beginning of the pilot by letter and caretakers were invited to information meetings. Halfway through the test-period all households received nudges in the form of information cards with thanks for their participation and encouragement to residents to continue the good work.

According to Arla Foods and Tetra Pak, 25,000 tonnes of drink cartons are released on the Danish market every year. Around 2,600 tonnes per year are generated as waste in Copenhagen, which has approx. 285,000 households. The potential is around 20 tonnes of beverage cartons in the experimental area over half a year, which would give almost 4 tonnes of LDPE. The amount collected is sent to Fiskeby Board that examine the composition and process the paper fibres and plastic fibres for possible recycling. Quantities, composition and market value of the collected waste will be examined over the period.

Clarification of the market value will require an invitation to tender. Only then will it be assessed how the new cardboard and beverage carton waste stream will affect the overall operating economy and municipal waste fee.

Result to date

On several occasions it has been registered that the citizens are active in sorting their beverage cartons and pizza boxes. So far, the pilot shows indications of a general increase in the collected cardboard volume by approx. 15%. Since this is a new waste stream the value is unknown. The waste stream collected is referred to as "Mixed cardboard and carton" and the market price is between 40 and 60 euro per tonne, depending on purity. The waste stream "Clean cardboard" which is collected today has a market price between 80 and 100 euro per tonne.

After 3-4 month of collection the actual percentage of beverage cartons in the total volume has been measured to ~ 5% of collected waste stream (compare SWE/FIN ~10-15%). Plastic Zero is pleased by the results so far as they show that a change in behaviour is possible. To increase the recycling rate communication could be decisive therefore Plastic Zero looks forward to receiving new data that can indicate the possible effect of the nudging card on the amount and quality of the recycled LDPE from beverage cartons.

 Tomme Pizzabakker Og M√¶lkekartoner Baled beverage and pizza cartons

Figure 2. Empty beverage cartons and pizza boxestogether with cardboard and carton from the City of Copenhagen

Synergi Webbureau Reklamebureau