The recycler feeds the cartons into a giant mixer filled with water, a process called re-pulping which takes around 20 minutes. This process separates the paper fibres from the aluminium and plastic films. The virgin fibres used in beverage cartons have maximum strength for the lowest possible weight. They are therefore a valuable raw material for new paper-based products when recycled.
The uses of fibres from recycled beverage cartons are widespread: cardboard boxes, packaging for consumer goods, office stationery, gypsum board as well as textile and paper cores.
The recycling and recovery process of the non-fibre components can vary depending on country and reprocessing infrastructure. The plastic and aluminium films are used for different purposes. In some cases the plastic can replace fossil fuels to power the recycling plants themselves, or more often it is used for new plastic products, such as gardening furniture. The aluminium is sold as secondary material and used in a number of industrial applications, replacing virgin aluminium.
1. PAPIERFABRIK NIEDERAUER MÜHLE
This German paper manufacturer is the largest recycler of beverage cartons in Europe. The paper mill uses the recycled fibres to manufacture high-quality corrugated paper for cardboard production. External partners recycle the polymer into energy or pellets and the aluminium layers into aluminium powder.
2. STORA ENSO BARCELONA
As well as recycling the fibres, this Spanish plant recycles the aluminium and converts the polyethylene into energy, which is used to operate the recycling mill (pyrolysis technology).
3. FISKEBY BOARD
This paper mill in Norrköping, Sweden, produces board that is made of 100% recycled fibres from beverage cartons and other paper packaging. The polymer and aluminium is recovered as energy for the mill, replacing the need for other fuels.
4. SONOCO ALCORE
Sonoco Alcore, a dedicated beverage carton recycling plant in the UK, uses the recycled fibres to make industrial-size cores and tubes, which are used for plastic film, textile yarns and paper.