Juice and milk cartons now recyclable

Juice and milk cartons have long been one of the major contributors to waste in most regions around the world. There has been a major development in the South African paper and packaging recycling market, with Mpact Recycling announcing that liquid cartons are now recyclable. This follows the investment of R46-million in a Liquid Packaging recycling plant at Mpact’s Springs Paper Mill facility. The investment forms part of Mpact Group’s various recycling initiatives to increase available materials for all its mills, as per a company press release.

It was previously not possible to recycle juice and milk cartons, poly-coated cups and wet-strength bags, as they are not made of typical paperboard, says John Hunt, managing director of Mpact Recycling. “Although approximately 75% of liquid packaging content is paper to make it liquid-proof, the product is lined with low density polyethylene (plastic,) which acts as a water-tight barrier; a lining of aluminium foil which serves as a barrier to light, flavour, and oxygen, enabling the contents to last for months without preservatives or refrigeration; and a coating with kaolin clay to improve the printing surface,” he says. The mix of plastic and metal (polyalu) meant that cartons could not previously be recycled as the polyalu couldn’t be separated from the paper of the carton.

“These need to be removed before the paper can be recycled,” says Hunt. “This was facilitated by two developments. Firstly, local liquid carton manufacturers have over the years redesigned their processes to significantly reduce the amount of plastic used in the packaging. Secondly, Mpact’s new Liquid Packaging recycling plant has the capacity to recycle 25,000 tonnes of used liquid cartons per annum and will allow us to produce approximately 18,000 tonnes of recovered fibre, which will be fed directly into our paper division for use in new paper products.”

In May 2016, the Group invested R350 million into Mpact Polymers to develop a plant that would process up to 29,000 tonnes of PET bottles a year.