Composite Materials

How recyclable are packets and cartons lined with plastic and aluminium? Should you have them at your event?

Composite packaging are those items made from materials which a fused together, such as juice cartons (cardboard and plastic), Tetrapak (adds a layer of aluminium), or metalized plastic packaging such as sweets, crisp and cookie packets. 

A typical shelf-stable carton averages 74 percent paper, 22 percent plastic, and 4 percent aluminium. Refrigerated cartons skip the aluminium and usually contain an 80 percent paper and 20 percent plastic combination to hold in the liquid.

Find out if the MRF takes it

Ask if the MRF your recycling will take composite materials. If not then you need to make the decision on whether and how to restrict the use of these materials. 

Find out where the onward processing occurs.

It is important to not have your event’s waste shipped overseas for onward processing. Confirm where the cartons and other composite materials go next for recycling through the hydra-pulping process. 

Ask what happens to the poly-al. Is it used as a material input or does it go to incineration? You will need to decide if you are willing to accept waste to energy as a processing option.

Recyclability

After going through MRF to separate out the cartons from other types of materials, they will be sent to paper mills where they are mixed with water in a giant blender called a ‘hydra-pulper’.

This process separates the paper from the plastic and aluminum. If the process allows, the PET and aluminium are further separated for onward recycling. This does not always happen, and the resulting ‘poly-al’ is often incinerated for energy (not ideal) or used to create a composite product such as the panelling pictured. 

Not all MRFs have the technology to sort them from other materials, and onward processing facilities don’t exist everywhere. Find out if your country has recycling infrastructure. And in the UK, look here: http://www.tetrapakrecycling.co.uk/ In the USA the Carton Council has produced recycling search function.