Not quite paper, not plastic… How do you recycle beverage cartons?

The CAREton Project handles the recycling of used drink packs, turning them into roof tiles.

As the practice of recycling becomes more and more common in homes, there are still many items that people aren’t quite sure how to handle.

Sure, the loose paper goes into the paper pile, and aluminium cans go into the metal bin and there are even straightforward solutions to waste problems, like refusing take-away boxes by using your own container.

However, many are still unsure about what to do with something incredibly common — beverage cartons.

(Disclaimer: EPIC is a direct beneficiary of The CAREton Project)

The anatomy of drink packs

What differentiates these cartons from regular boxes is its ability to make food products become “shelf-stable” — the storage of food at room temperature without spoiling.

To achieve that, these beverage cartons, like the ones used for the milk and juice you buy from the store, is made up of 75% paper fibre, 20% polyethylene & 5% aluminium foil.

The mix of materials is what makes it complicated to recycle at conventional recycling centres.

Beverage cartons need to go through a specific process called hydrapulping, which essentially separates the carton’s paper (pulp) from the plastic (polyethylene) and aluminium.

The pulp will then be sent to a papermaking facility to produce recycled paper.

The remaining combination of plastic and aluminium, on the other hand, referred to as Poly Al, is more difficult to separate without advanced machinery. However, there are uses for Poly Al that doesn’t require it to be separated.

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A typical construction of a shelf-stable carton — Image from Carton Council (US)

From drink pack to home improvement

With the right processes, the Poly Al mix can quite literally put a roof over someone’s head.

Poly Al has most popularly found a second life as roofing tiles.

The Poly Al gathered after the hydrapulping is sent to a hot press facility where Poly Al mix will be processed into flat panel boards with inserted corrugation while cooling (post hot-press) to increase structural and technical benefits.

The resulting panels are also called tuff boards and are considered to be an environmentally-friendly alternative to metal corrugated roofing sheets.

A total of 7,247 recycled beverage cartons can produce 1 (4 x 9 feet) roof tiles.

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Roof tiles made of recycled Poly Al being fitted on a house. — Photo courtesy of Buildables

Preparing your cartons for recycling

If you would like to end the guessing game of whether your rubbish collector has the facility to recycle your used beverage cartons, you can take your collected drink packs to designated facilities that work in partnership with The CAREton Project.

Tetra Pak Malaysia, in partnership with Nestle Malaysia, initiated the CAREton Project in 2012 and has seen a total of over 60 million cartons collected until last year.

The initiative has partnered with 24 collection partners in the country, providing over 480 collection points nationwide.

To find one that’s closest to you, there is an online mapping service called Carton Finder on CAREton Project’s “Recycle Easy” website. It maps out locations of the different drop off points, buy-back centres, commercial collection points and recycling facilities.

The Carton Finder map makes it easier for you to find a beverage carton collection point that’s closest to you.

“All used beverage cartons are accepted for recycling under the CAREton project, any brand, any size,” says Tetra Pak Environment Director Terrynz Tan.

“By the simple act of collecting and sending the used beverage cartons to the collection points, the used beverage cartons will be given a meaningful second life.”

One of the beneficiaries of The CAREton Project is the EPIC Homes initiative, for which 46 roofing tiles are needed for one home.

The project has also expanded to include turning the Poly Al into flat panel boards, which are used as internal walls and door panels to widen the scope of drink packs’ second life.

If this has motivated you to save your drink cartons for proper recycling, keep in mind the following steps before sending it off to the nearest collection point:

Flip, flap and flatten your cartons after you’ve emptied and rinsed it of its contents. — Image courtesy of Tetra Pak Malaysia

After emptying and rinsing the cartons of its contents, undo its flaps and then flatten it for convenient separation and collection.

Find out more about The CAREton Project, where you can drop off your drink cartons and more facts about beverage cartons over at Recycle Easy.

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