Sonoco Alcore: As good as gold

Read so far

Sonoco Alcore: As good as gold

June 18, 2013 - 08:12
Posted in:

Recovered drink cartons more valuable than recently discovered ancient treasure?

BRUSSELS, June 10, 2013 (RISI) - The recent discovery of an ancient hoard of gold and precious objects in Staffordshire, or the famed Sutton Hoo buried ship in Suffolk, now at the British Museum, may not measure up to the value to another kind of hoard discovered in West Yorkshire, UK.

The carton hoard

Previously landfilled or transported overseas, beverage cartons are now being recycled in the UK to create valuable fiber, plastic and aluminum streams. Sonoco Alcore will use 25,000 tonnes annually of paper-based drink cartons sorted from household and commercial waste to make uncoated recycled coreboard for tubes and cores.

In partnership with the Alliance for Beverage Cartons & the Environment (ACE), the United Kingdom's first drink carton reprocessing facility near Halifax, West Yorkshire, will not only produce outstanding fiber for Sonoco Alcore, but possibly two other value streams-plastics for fuel and use of aluminium flakes. Kadant Lamort, a subsidiary of Kadant, was critical to the viability of this project, because its pioneering polycoated waste recycling system, makes recovery of the three raw materials possible.

According to Richard Hands, chief executive of ACE UK, "The Kadant pulping, screening, and cleaning system delivers highly desirable fiber for a board mill, effectively separating polymers and aluminum for recycling or recovery"

Alain Lascar, Kadant Lamort's director of applications and marketing adds, "Used beverage cartons are now contributing to mill profitability and long term sustainability because multiple ‘clean' value streams have been technically and commercially proven. Beverage cartons are contributing positively to communities and the environment. ACE UK is leading the way in the UK with full resource recovery and long-term sustainability . They make a good role model globally."

Commenting, Adam Wood, vice president industrial converting, Sonoco Alcore, Europe says: "Our company has a long history of recycling and reuse, and this opportunity with ACE UK strengthens our focus on sustainability. This partnership provides us with the fiber we need to produce our engineered tubes and cores. Additionally, as an integrated manufacturer, it is important for us to know our material sources. We value the ACE UK members' commitment to sourcing from responsibly managed forests."

ACE UK is a trade association, representing leading beverage carton manufacturers. They include Tetra Pak, Elopak, and SIG Combibloc. Their charter is to raise the profile of beverage cartons as a renewable, recyclable and low-carbon packaging choice.

Raising recycling rate

As the UK mill offers numerous benefits to local authorities, kerbside coverage and carton recycling rates are now expected to increase even more dramatically. These benefits include creating a UK market price per tonne for the recycling of used beverage cartons and enabling those local authorities with no-export policies on waste to recycle cartons in the UK - diverting material from landfill and avoiding landfill tax, gate fees and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, the mill provides an opportunity for local authorities to reduce the road and rail miles travelled by used beverage cartons for recycling: currently cartons collected by ACE UK are reprocessed in mills in mainland Europe. It will also be of interest to those local authorities that prefer to have a defined route for their recycling streams, rather than having used cartons sold on the open market, usually to mills overseas.

ACE UK's dedicated recycling team will continue to find other ways of collecting beverage cartons, including on-the-go consumption on transport systems or in the street, as well as through the catering sector.

Linda Crichton, head of Collections & Quality Programme at Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), comments: "This announcement of a new UK-based reprocessing capacity for beverage cartons is welcomed by WRAP. With the steady increase in collections of cartons for recycling over recent years the ability to now recycle these in the UK is good news for local authorities and their waste management contractors. I'm sure it will also encourage others to add cartons to their kerbside recycling services."

Hoards of value vs. landfill disposal

The UK plant at full capacity of 25,000 tonnes will potentially reduce landfill taxes and gate fees (average) by £3,400,000 ($5,2 million), based on landfill tax for 2012 and £3,600,000 for 2013. Taking into account all of the UK collection hubs, and based on sending the cartons to an Italian paper mill, for example, this would be an average annual saving of 41,378 road miles which is an average annual saving of 178 tonnes of CO2. And with the saving of 110,400 annual rail miles this will save a further 110 tonnes of CO2: a total saving of about 288 tonnes of CO2.

"Understanding the economics and quality aspects of the various stages of the recycling value chain is an essential part of our job," says Mario Abreu, global environment director, Forestry and Recycling, "That's why we place such importance of Kadant's recent breakthrough with advanced pulping for beverage cartons."

The demand for high-grade fiber for recycling is the obvious motivator behind paper mills looking closely at beverage cartons. Combined with recent technology developments for aluminum and low-density polyethylene recovery, multi-functional advanced recycling - producing multiple value streams - will likely become the norm.

According to Lascar, "Getting the highest possible fiber yield always matters with recycled fiber. In addition, clean fiber and plastic and aluminum value streams are important for economic viability. Equipment runs better, when it's not encumbered with "contaminants," which is what fiber, plastics and aluminum are when they are in the wrong value stream."

Lascar adds, "Because our system is compact and operates at a low temperature, less energy is required to produce high quality fiber for the machine."

The pioneering repulping technology

Until recently, no repulping process had proven itself to produce the full value from beverage cartons. Delivering a high yield of non-contaminated fiber and distinct separation of plastics and aluminum always fell short.

The traditional approach for a pulper cleaning system includes a ragger, trashwell, rejects defibering system and a drum screen for rejects. Inherently, this meant that decontamination was limited by the size of the rejects handling system and the number of cycles possible. In effect, traditional technology fell short.

The new recycling system from Kadant includes pulping, screening, and cleaning equipment, where the fiber is recycled and used by the board mill, and independent "clean" streams of polymers and aluminum from the post-consumer waste are ready for recycling or recovery.

The key components for pulping include the HeliDrum pulper, a compact ScreenOne fine screening system, and the newly developed Compact Liquid Packaging Recycling System, referred to as the LP Recycling System. The LP Recycling System benefits include:

  • Keeping aluminum and the polymers nearly in-tact in the pulper rejects
  • Producing almost fiber-free rejects
  • Maintaining the aluminum foil between its two original plastic films (where aluminum has been used on aseptic cartons)
  • Producing high quality final pulp
  • Energy savings in the low temperature pulper
  • No shredding required
  • High yield
  • Low energy consumption
  • Closed water loops.

Also important to note is that the LP Recycling System is compact and does not require a shredder or forward cleaners in the stock preparation line. In addition, reverse cleaners, dispersing and kneading devices are also eliminated.

Maximizing the value streams

Working in tangent with exceptional fiber recovery, new technologies for extracting the best value from the non-paper portions of beverage cartons are coming on-stream. ACE UK is currently assessing a number of technologies to understand which is the best fit for polyAl recycling/ recovery.

One approach is to employ the properties of the polymers and the aluminum, combining them into one substance that could be granulated and then pelletized to create a standard mix (probably with other materials added). The pellets can then be extruded to create goods such as man-hole covers, garden decking or garden furniture.

Another approach heats polyAl in a chamber with carbon. The carbon helps to burn off any organic material and ‘cracks' the polymers so that they can be used as a fuel. The aluminum flakes have some char, but can be resold back into the metals industry.

Also under consideration is a way to shred the polyAl (and mill rejects) and store them in a silo to ensure a homogenous material stream. The stock is then fed into a fluidized bed and pyrolyzed, again, ‘cracking' the polymers so that they can be used as an energy source (steam generation is possible). The aluminum is left in a flake with slight charring and can be sold back into the metals industry.

Where this process differs is that it is also capable of utilizing the rejects from other pulping lines that are polymer based.

In summary, ACE UK will soon accomplish its objectives, and further demonstrate the potential to be gained from beverage cartons. Looking ahead, other recycled products, such as paper cups could follow this lead. Formerly difficult post-consumer wastes for recycling will become more viable as the high quality fiber and other high-value streams can be captured to support long-term sustainability.