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Recyclable packaging

What is the definition of recyclable packaging? What packaging materials are considered recyclable in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg? Why is some packaging waste not yet recyclable?

Discover all this information and find out more about local sorting and recycling!

 

How do we define recyclable packaging waste?

valorlux-certified

At Valorlux, we use a clear definition of the word recyclable. As such we consider packaging waste to be recyclable when it meets the following three criteria: 

 

  • the packaging waste can be collected by the existing collection systems within the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
  • the packaging waste can be sorted in the sorting centres and sorting has been or can be proven on a large scale. For packaging collected in the Valorlux bag, this criteria applies to the HEIN sorting centre in Bech-Kleinmacher.
  • the packaging waste can be recycled in an economically efficient and ecologically sound manner. Recycling has been or can be proven on a large scale.

What are the criteria for economically efficient and ecologically sound recycling?

We consider recycling to be economically efficient and ecologically sound when the following criteria are met during the entire recycling process:

 

  • Transport distances reduced to a minimum for collection, sorting and recycling;
  • Economically viable costs for collection, sorting and recycling;
  • Sorting facilities capable of sorting the major streams of the packaging waste;
  • Recycling centres in neighbouring or other European countries;
  • Recycling technology that has been proven on a large scale with a guaranteed market for recycled materials.

How are recyclers chosen?

Wherever possible, Valorlux favours local recycling. However, given that Luxembourg has hardly any plants, e.g. treatment plants (washing, crushing) for packaging within the national territory for the purpose of profitability, (the profitability threshold is around 25,000 tonnes), the majority of sorted materials is exported to recyclers in neighbouring or European countries.

 

Aside from taking into account the criteria for reasonable economic and ecological recycling, all recyclers, to which different materials are delivered, are certified by local authorities and an agreement with the Environment Agency in Luxembourg is required in order to export this waste to recyclers.

 

In more detail:

 

  • Steel is recycled in Luxembourg
  • Aluminium is recycled in Belgium
  • Drinks cartons are recycled in Germany
  • Plastic is recycled in France and Germany 
  • Cardboard and paper are recycled in France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands
  • Glass is recycled in France

Metal packaging: steel and aluminium

 

Did you know that 80% of metal put on the market is still in use today? And that recycling a tonne of metal enables 79 to 95% of energy to be saved compared to mineral based production?

 

So how is the sorting and recycling of metal packaging put on the Luxembourg market handled exactly? What types of packaging are involved? Quickly find out the answers to these questions in this article.

 

Aluminium is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust. It is extracted from the mineral bauxite, a rock which is named after the town of Beaux-de-Provence in France, where this mineral was first discovered. Aluminium is very malleable and light, it has good barrier qualities in order to protect foodstuffs and it doesn't rust in humid environments.

 

Aluminium packaging is used for various applications (non-exhaustive list), including:

 

  • drinks cans,
  • food trays,
  • pet food trays,
  • lids on yoghurt pots,
  • aerosol cans,
  • bottle caps (juice, water, wines and spirits),
  • biscuit and chocolate wrappers,
  • cosmetics and pharmaceutical packaging.

 

The sorting and recycling of aluminium packaging in Luxembourg

 

Eddy current machines are used to recover aluminium at the sorting plant in Bech-Kleinmacher. This process enables all aluminium packaging to be recovered. Thus, even the smallest elements (such as bottle caps) can be sorted, recovered and sent to the plant HKS, which is located in Geel in Belgium, after having been baled.

 

The plant prepares the waste in such a way that aluminium cans and trays can easily be recycled into new cans. After having baled these new resources, they are transported to a recycler.

 

First of all, the recycler crushes the aluminium and removes any impurities such as paint and lacquer. The aluminium chips are thus cleaned and put into a high-temperature furnace (aluminium melts at 660 degrees Celsius). When aluminium melts, it reacts with the air, forming aluminium oxide which floats on the surface. After removing this slag, the mass left behind from this process can be moulded into ingots or sheets. The ingots are stretched using a rolling process and they come out in the form of aluminium sheets, which can be used to make new packaging or objects.  

 

  • For example, the full recycling cycle for a can takes 60 days! 
  • 670 cans can be used to make a bike!
  • By recycling 1 tonne of aluminium, you can save 9 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Steel is an iron carbon alloy that has been mined since the Iron Age. Following the industrial revolution and development towards a more prosperous society in the second half of the 19th century, steel was developed as a packaging material for many different products.

Its properties provide protection against ultraviolet (UV) rays, humidity and air, and it is also perfectly watertight.

 

Steel packaging is used for various applications (non-exhaustive list), including:

 

  • Boxes for cosmetics,
  • Drinks cans,
  • Packaging for chocolate, tea, coffee,
  • Confectionery boxes,
  • Cans,
  • Beer bottle caps,
  • Tin cans,
  • Lids,
  • Tea lights,
  • Non-hazardous aerosol cans.

 

The sorting and recycling of steel packaging in Luxembourg

 

The sorting plant in Bech-Kleinmacher uses a magnetic overband (a great big magnet positioned above a conveyor belt) to recover all steel packaging waste. The steel waste that is recovered is first pressed into bales and is then transported to ESKA Derichebourg in Woippy, in France (Moselle), where it is packaged and compacted. After this process, the steel scrap is returned to Arcelor Mittal in Differdange, within the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, to be recycled.

 

At Arcelor Mittal, the waste is first melted in an electric arc furnace. At the same time, oxygen (O) is added in order to remove carbon in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2). Other additives are then added, such as silicon (Si) or aluminium (Al) which act as a reducer or deoxidiser and aim to remove the remaining oxygen. The steel that is thus purified and recovered during this process is then transported to a refining furnace, known as a ladle furnace, where the alloys required to determine the specific characteristics of the final product are added. Finally, the ladle is transported to the continuous casting plant.

The final product of this recycled steel, resulting from Luxembourg’s packaging waste, is used to produce beams, sheet piling and rails. Local steel packaging waste isn’t made into packaging again. This is because Arcelor Mittal has a specialised factory for the manufacturing of steel packaging in Dunkirk (France). However, transporting steel packaging waste from Luxembourg to Dunkirk wouldn’t be ecologically or economically viable. It is much wiser to recycle the waste locally and profit from the manufacturing of beams used for construction.

The advantage of metal is that it can be recycled endlessly without losing its physical and chemical qualities. Metal has good recycling potential, which means that most metal packaging on the market is still in use today.

 

In theory, new metal objects can be produced exclusively from scrap. In practice, having to resort to using raw materials and secondary materials simultaneously remains relevant today, as a lot of metal is incorporated into applications that have a long life cycle, such as buildings or cars. For these applications, there is a long delay before metals can be recovered and integrated into a new product.

 

This is why the recovery of metal packaging by means of existing collection and recycling chains is so important. As the life cycle of packaging is very short, secondary materials become rapidly available in order to remake another product. The recycling of metal packaging therefore contributes to the development of the circular economy by limiting the extraction of new minerals, preserving natural raw resources and reducing CO2 emissions.

 

So your drinks can, after it is used and recycled, could potentially see out its next life cycle within the shipbuilding or automotive industry or as a construction material. But it could also be reused as another can. The full recycling cycle of a can, to be returned to the market as another can, only takes 60 days!

Current recycling rates:

 

  • The recycling rate for metal packaging was 83% for Luxembourg in 2019.
  • The minimum recycling rate required by law is 50%.
  • In Luxembourg, metal represents 7% of the total amount of recycled packaging waste (Source: Valorlux Annual Report 2019).

 

        Recycling rate subject to legislation in Europe and Luxembourg

 

Year Ferrous metals Aluminium
2025 70% 50%
2030 80% 60%

 

 

 

Key facts: 

  • Every year, 98 billion units of metal are produced in Europe for the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. This means that each resident of the European Union consumes an average of 4 units per week.
  • Each aluminium can that is collected and sorted, can be turned into a new can in just 60 days.
  • By recycling 1 tonne of aluminium, you can save 9 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

Illustration of steel recycling

 

 

Schema de production

(Source image: Arcelor Mittal Luxembourg)

Plastic packaging

Did you know that, in 2018, plastic only accounted for 19% of the total weight of European packaging waste for all packaging materials combined?** And that 40% of the European demand for plastic was allocated to the manufacturing of packaging?*

 

What materials hide behind the generic term of “plastic”? Which plastics are recyclable at the current stage of development at the sorting and recycling facilities in Luxembourg? Find out the answers to these questions in this article.

 

 

The first synthetic plastic was invented and mass produced in 1907, with the invention of Bakelite by Leo Hendrik Baekeland. For a long time, this material was used to make telephones. This was followed by the invention of cellophane, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene (PS), polyethylene (PE) and nylon before the Second World War. Plastic really started to take off after the Second World War. Tupperware was launched in 1946 and the first plastic bottle made its appearance in 1968.

 

Since then, technological developments have resulted in the exponential manufacturing and use of plastic on a global level. In 2019, 370 million tonnes of plastic was produced and estimates expect this figure to double over the next 20 years. (European Commission)

Plastic and fossil-based resources

 

Plastic can be synthesised from cellulose, coal, natural gas or petrol. However, it can also be completely bio-sourced and produced from renewable resources. There’s just one question to ask: why is the production of plastic still closely linked to the oil industry?

 

After the Second World War, efforts to relaunch the world economy created a significant energy demand. Given that oil enabled access to cheap energy, oil exploitation has seen rapid growth, which still remains to this day. Nowadays, even if we see a growing desire to create an energy transition, the world economy currently still remains highly dependent on the exploitation of fossil-based resources.

 

And it’s in light of oil exploitation, that plastic was developed. During the oil refining process, several oils are removed from the crude oil, such as fuel, diesel and kerosene. Another oil, known as naphtha, is also extracted during the refining process. This product is specifically used to make plastic resins. Plastic, as we know it, is therefore a product derived from the oil refining process.

 

With a world economy that is still highly dependent on fossil-based resources, naphtha therefore continues to be extracted as a product derived from the oil refining process.

 

What about the use of renewable resources?

 

At the moment, plastic produced from renewable resources is still in the development and scaling phase. Demand for bio-plastic is still low with production corresponding to only 1% of global plastic production in 2020. 47% (0.99 million tonnes) has already been applied to packaging***. This demand, which is still limited, implies that the cost to make plastic using renewable resources is still higher than the cost to make it using fossil-based resources.

 

However, the European Commission is considering decoupling plastic production from fossil-based resources by using bio-sourced resources, amongst others. It also needs to ensure that these new plastics actually provide ecological benefits compared to the use of non-renewable resources.

 

Until this decoupling of fossil-based resources actually takes place, we can therefore estimate that plastic produced using fossil-based resources, due to its high functionality and its relatively low cost, will continue to be a part of our daily lives.

 

 

Plastic packaging: the origin of its success

The success of plastic packaging is due to the specific characteristics of this material: flexibility, durability, lightness, stability, barrier properties, ease of sanitation, potential to be applied in the form of films or rigid applications. All of these characteristics enable plastics to be used for multiple and various types of packaging applications.

 

As a result, plastic is a particularly attractive material for food packaging. Due to its properties, plastic helps to reduce food waste, enabling foodstuffs to remain fresh, and it helps to prolong the shelf life of food. It prevents the transfer of flavour and enables food to keep its natural flavour. Hence, it enables distributors to comply with required standards in terms of food safety, by ensuring the food is treated in a hygienic way and is protected from external contamination.

 

It is also interesting to note, that at the current stage of research and development, no other packaging material can combine all the characteristics that plastic has to offer. This explains its continuous success as a packaging material.

PP (polypropylene) is part of the polyolefin family. It is the plastic with the lowest density. Its thermal resistance, however, makes it particularly suitable for food that needs to be heated in a microwave.

 

It accounted for 19.4% of the European plastic demand in 2019.*

 

Polypropylene packaging is used for various applications (non-exhaustive list), including:

 

  • Airtight trays for food to be heated in a microwave
  • Trays and pots for salads
  • Yoghurt pots
  • Pots of butter or margarine
  • Bags for confectionery packaging
  • Containers with a hinged lid
  • Plant pots

 

Plastic-recyc-05

You can identify PP by the number 5 resin identification code marked on the packaging.

HDPE (high density polyethylene) is part of the polyolefin family. It has a higher density, is very rigid and solid and it is resistant to tension and shock.

 

It accounted for 12.4% of the European plastic demand in 2019.*

 

HDPE packaging is used for various applications (non-exhaustive list), including:

 

  • Rigid bottles (e.g. milk bottles)
  • Bottles (detergents, cleaning products, cosmetic bottles such as shampoo)
  • Mustard and mayonnaise containers
  • Pots
  • Caps
  • Films

 

Plastic-recyc-02

You can identify HDPE by the number 2 resin identification code marked on the packaging.

PET is part of the polyester family. It is a robust yet lightweight plastic. PET is mainly used for plastic bottles, for which the use of recycled plastic (known as R-PET) for reuse in new bottles, has been approved by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority). The PET bottle is therefore a confirmed example of circularity in terms of plastic.

 

It accounted for 7.9% of the European plastic demand in 2019.*

 

PET packaging is used for various applications (non-exhaustive list), including:

 

  • Bottles (juice, water)    
  • Food trays
  • Small pots of vinaigrettes and sauces
  • Spice jars
  • Bottles for hygienic products

 

Plastic-recyc-01

You can identify PET by the number 1 resin identification code marked on the packaging.

LDPE (low-density polyethylene) is part of the polyolefin family. LDPE has a low density. Flexible, soft and extensible, it can withstand temperatures of up to 80° Celsius.

 

It accounted for 17.4% of the European plastic demand in 2019.*

 

LDPE packaging is used for various applications (non-exhaustive list), including:

 

  • Plastic bags and film, bin bags
  • Sealed films for food trays
  • Packaging films
Plastic-recyc-04

You can identify LDPE by the number 4 resin identification code marked on the packaging.

Polystyrene can be in the form of a mousse (EPS) or a rigid form (PS or XPS). It has a low oxygen and steam barrier and a relatively low melting point.

 

The well-known use for PS is in the form of expanded polystyrene, also known as “frigolite”. EPS is a packaging material used for many applications in everyday life. Lightweight and durable, it also has the ability to absorb shock and thermal insulation really well.

 

It accounted for 6.2% of the European plastic demand in 2019 (PS + EPS).

 

PS packaging is used for various applications (non-exhaustive list), including:

 

  • Pots for yoghurts or fresh cream
  • Trays for fish
  • Trays for meat
  • Food packaging to handle the temperature of hot or cold food (fish, meat)
  • Cushioning and protective packaging
  • Fast food packaging
Plastic-recyc-06

You can identify PS by the number 6 resin identification code marked on the packaging.

Sorting

 

Plastic packaging collected via door-to-door collection (blue bag) is sent to the sorting plant in Bech-Kleinmacher. The initial sorting process, using a rotary sifter, enables the packaging to be separated according to its size. This process enables large plastic films to be removed in order to continue the sorting process. Then, the smaller and lighter films are separated from the rest of the packaging using an air separator which vacuums up the films and lastly using a ballistic air separator. At the end of the process, the films (PE and PP) are completely separated from the rigid packaging. The latter continues its journey through the sorting plant and moves through different units equipped with optical sorting (NIR/near infrared). Each NIR is able to identify a specific material (PP, PS, PET, HDPE) and at the end of the sorting chain, the waste is sorted according to the type of resin. With regards to bottles made from PET, different NIR machines are also able to identify the colour of the bottle and to sort them into transparent/light blue bottles, dark blue/green bottles or other coloured bottles. At the end of the sorting process, each material is pressed into bales and prepared to be delivered to various recycling plants.

 

Recycling

 

The bales are transported from Bech-Kleinmacher to different recyclers:

 

  • PET is transported to Wellman and Plastipak Packaging in France
  • HDPE is transported to Paprec in France and AGR_DAR and Replano in Germany
  • PE and PP films are transported to AGR_DAR in Germany
  • PP is transported to Paprec in France and AGR_DAR in Germany
  • PS is transported to Vogt Plastic in Germany
  • EPS is transported to Fischer Gruppe in Germany

 

In terms of recycling plants, each material requires a specific treatment technique. Generally, recyclers are therefore specialised in the recycling of a specific plastic resin. This is because resins have different densities and require different melting temperatures. Some resins, such as resins derived from PET bottles, can be reprocessed into new bottles. For the majority of plastic materials, EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) agreements for their reuse in applications that come into contact with food, do not exist yet. Resins that are allowed to be reintegrated into applications that come into contact with food, must not be mixed with resins that are not allowed, so as to avoid any contamination. This also emphasises the importance of delivering single variety resins to each recycler.

 

Although the recycling process for each resin requires a specific technique, the key phases are similar. First of all, the waste is washed in order to remove large impurities, such as adhesives. Then, it is crushed into flakes, washed again and then melted and pressed into granules. These granules are used to incorporate them into new objects or packaging.

 

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Did you know...? Zoom in on the bottle caps

When sorting your packaging waste, you can leave caps on bottles. When they are washed, the flakes from the HDPE cap float to the top and those from the bottles float below, which enables the recycler to separate them easily before continuing with the recycling process.

 

However, if you’d like to support local action in Luxembourg, you can also collect them separately and give them to the ASA association who funds the training for assistance dogs via its "E Stopp fir e Mupp" (a bottle cap for a dog) campaign.

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Plastic is everywhere in our daily lives. We find it in our cars, the screens we look at, toys, in clinical applications, in our clothes, our homes, in everyday objects and of course, in packaging.

 

This material is often criticised for the flip side of its successful use: litter (wild waste) and environmental pollution. Plastic, like all other packaging materials, doesn’t belong in the environment. In 2017****, a German study estimated that out of 1,350 rivers analysed, 10 rivers (8 in Asia and 2 in Africa) were found to be responsible for 90% of plastic transported by river into the oceans.  The cause of this problem isn’t the plastic material itself, but the lack of facilities to collect, sort and recycle waste in these regions.

 

The European Commission estimates that every year, the equivalent of 66,000 lorries full of plastic waste is dumped into European oceans. Unlike in some Asian countries, collection, sorting and recycling facilities for plastic packaging are both operational and functional in Europe. Therefore, it’s essential that we all play our part when it comes to the sorting process. This is to ensure these resources don’t become lost waste and they can be reused and recycled into new objects or packaging.

Current recycling rates:

 

  • The recycling rate for plastic packaging was 59.22% for Luxembourg in 2019.
  • The minimum recycling rate required by law is 22.5%.
  • In Luxembourg, plastic represents 13% of the total amount of recycled packaging waste.*****

 

Future recycling rates subject to legislation in Europe and Luxembourg

 

2025 : 50 %

2030 : 55 %

 

Content of recycled material in drinks bottles (R-PET)

 

2025 : 25 % of recycled materials

2030 : 30 % of recycled materials

 

Key facts:

  • Europe has the highest plastic recycling rate in the world.

  • Since 2006, the amount of plastic packaging waste sent to recycling chains has increased by 92% in the European Union.

  • In 2018, 42% of the amount of plastic packaging collected in the European Union was recycled.*

  • European plastic production accounted for 16% of world production in 2019.

  • 51% of world production is attributable to Asian countries.*

  • 40% of the European plastic demand is allocated to packaging. 20% in construction and 10% in the automotive industry.*

BottleToBottle(Flaschenherstellung-Befüllen)
* Source PlasticsEurope
**Source Eurostat
*** Source : European Bioplastics
**** Source : Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea" by Christian Schmidt (et al) from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Germany
***** Source : Rapport annuel 2019 Valorlux

Paper and cardboard packaging

 

Did you know that by recycling a tonne of paper/cardboard you save 3kWh, which is equivalent to the energy consumption of an LCD TV for 2 days? And that paper and cardboard account for the majority of packaging waste in Europe, with 40.9% of the weight of waste and 31.8 million tonnes generated in 2018? *

 

How are paper and cardboard produced and recycled and why is it important to sort at home? Find out the answers to these questions in this article.

 

The date chosen to document the discovery of paper goes back to the year 105 AD. At that time, a Chinese official named T’sai Lun put forward his method for making paper to the Imperial Court. And although, on this date, the production and previous use of paper made from plant fibres and silk could be demonstrated thereafter, it was from this day on that paper began to spread around the world.**  

 

Firstly, across Asia, then across the Middle East and finally throughout the West and Europe. Industrial-scale paper production actually began in the 19th century. Hence this material, which was originally supposed to be used for writing and printing, was developed into a material used for many and various applications.

 

Nowadays, paper/cardboard manufacturing is carried out using plant fibres from logging or the recycling of waste paper. The use of other plant fibres, such as straw, hemp or reeds currently accounts for only 2% of the global market.

 

Paper paste or pulp, used to produce paper and cardboard, can be mechanically recovered from wood by crushing the wood (raw material) or from waste paper/cardboard (secondary material). In this process, the major components of the wood (wood, lignin, cellulose) are preserved and result in what is called wood pulp. These papers have good opacity and printability, however, they turn yellow over time. Paper can also be chemically produced from wood. In this case, only the cellulose fibres are retained and the pulp that is formed is therefore made up of 95% cellulose fibres. Unlike paper made from wood pulp, paper made from cellulose fibres has a worse opacity. However, it ages better because the lignin, responsible for the yellowing of the paper, is removed during the production process.

Paper and cardboard have recently seen an increase in use for packaging. This is mainly due to the development of E-commerce, but also a more sceptical attitude from consumers towards plastic packaging, which generates a more favourable attitude towards paper and cardboard packaging. Paper and cardboard are generally perceived by consumers as more environmentally friendly.

Packing agri-food products in paper/cardboard thus provides an alternative to the use of other materials and helps to attract a more ecologically sensitive clientele.

 

Used for its durability, lower cost and its lightness, paper/cardboard packaging also protects its contents during transportation. Paper and cardboard can be used in various forms (from muslin for towels to rigid cardboard) and this enables them to be used for various applications. Furthermore, paper and cardboard are very versatile and easily printable, allowing food to be presented in packaging of different shapes and colours.

 

Paper/cardboard packaging is used for various applications (non-exhaustive list), including:

 

  • Cereal boxes
  • Sieved tomatoes
  • Pasta
  • Muesli
  • Rice
  • Crusty bread
  • Chocolate
  • Flour, sugar, salt
  • Nuts and hazelnuts
  • Online shopping
  • Pizza boxes
  • Egg boxes
  • Bags for shopping, fruit and vegetables, bread and pastries, sandwiches

Sorting 

 

In the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, paper or cardboard packaging can be sorted by households and collected by municipalities via different means: blue bin, containers or recycling parks. The blue bin provided for this purpose, which is collected door-to-door, is certainly the easiest way for consumers to sort at home and dispose of their paper/cardboard waste.

 

By means of door-to-door collection or centralised collection in recycling parks and containers, paper and cardboard packaging waste is then transported to the following companies: Lamesch in Bettembourg, Eco-Tec in Sanem and Hein Déchets in Bech-Kleinmacher. Here, major elements hindering the recycling process, such as multi-material packaging (e.g. packaging made of both cardboard and plastic) and closed packaging, of which the contents are difficult to verify visually (e.g. pizza boxes which may contain food scraps/paper waste put in a plastic bag), are manually removed, by a picker, from the rest of the material flow. Semi-automated sorting is then carried out, if necessary, to separate the paper from the cardboard. Then, all waste considered to be good quality is pressed into bales and transported to paper and cardboard manufacturers located in neighbouring countries (France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands).

 

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Good to know: 

How to make the manual work of the picker easier!

 

Closed paper/cardboard packaging, such as pizza boxes, should preferably be torn into two pieces and put in the paper/cardboard bin, so the picker, who carries out the manual and visual sorting at the entrance of the plant, can easily identify the quality of this packaging and deem it suitable for the correct recycling flow (no food scraps, no grease). If a visual check isn’t possible, this packaging will be removed from the flow as there is a risk that the potential contents could interfere with the recycling process.

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Recycling

 

First of all, the recycler sorts and separates the different types of paper and cardboard according to their colour and shape, then removes any residual elements that could interfere with the recycling process.

Next, the waste is put into a hot water bath known as a pulper/purifier where the fibres separate and form a pulp. This is how the secondary fibres used to produce new paper/cardboard are recovered. Other elements, such as staples or small plastic elements are also removed. Finally, and if necessary, a fibre de-inking operation completes the process and removes any printing ink from the pulp. The pulp is then spread out and dried so it can finally be wound into a roll. From these rolls, new finished products can be manufactured.

Globally, every 6th tree felled is turned into paper/cardboard. It takes almost as much energy to make paper using natural resources, as it does to make steel.*** Add to that the problems of replacing primary forests with intensive tree plantations to produce paper/cardboard and illegal logging. In 2012, a study found that out of 34 children's books analysed, 16 contained fibres from illegal logging. ***

 

Thus, even if paper and cardboard are made from renewable resources, the growth of the paper/cardboard market puts considerable pressure on the world’s forests. Therefore, and considering the points mentioned above, this context emphasises the importance of sorting and recycling paper and cardboard.

 

Not only does paper/cardboard recycling reduce the use of raw materials, but it also requires less energy and less water than production using raw materials. When analysing recent figures, we can already see a reversal of this trend to use raw materials. Paper/cardboard made from waste paper accounted for 57% of world production in 2019. 43% was made from raw materials. ***

 

The use of raw materials is sometimes a necessity. For example, with regards to paper/cardboard packaging used for food, it is often necessary to use raw fibres to ensure a quality of packaging that complies with certain sanitary standards.

 

Indeed, the length of the fibres shortens with each recycling rotation, which degrades the quality of the fibres over time. To ensure the packaging is of a good quality, in order to protect its contents adequately, raw fibres are used to make packaging.

However, the use of paper and cardboard alone (single-material) is currently still unsuitable for prolonged storage and for the packaging of fresh products. The incorporation and combination of several materials used in a single type of packaging (the addition of plastic or aluminium aside from paper/cardboard) becomes a necessity because these additional materials ensure the packaging is sealed and watertight. The coffee cup is one of the best-known examples - it is usually covered with a thin layer of plastic. At the current stage of technical developments, these are the only means to guarantee prolonged storage and food freshness, as well as the avoidance of transferring flavour from the paper/cardboard to food.

 

Another technique is to add admixtures and additives, which gives paper/cardboard certain desirable characteristics. These are most often fillers and coatings, lacquers, inks, adhesives, chemical compounds such as hydrophobic substances or those that form a silicon or greaseproof effect. Depending on the additives and admixtures used and the quantity used, they can also influence the quality of the recycled pulp, or even interfere with the recycling process.

 

In both cases, when the fibres become too short due to several recycling cycles (usually between six and seven rotations) or when too many contaminated elements due to certain admixtures or additives are found in the pulp, this pulp can only be used to make low-quality products such as toilet paper. Raw materials must be used for the manufacturing of high-quality paper/cardboard packaging. Especially, if the packaging is intended to come into contact with food.

Current recycling rates

 

  • The recycling rate for paper and cardboard is 87.31% in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. ****
  • The minimum recycling rate required by law is 60%.
  • In Luxembourg, paper/cardboard represents 32% of the total amount of recycled packaging waste. ****

 

Recycling rate subject to legislation in Europe and Luxembourg

 

2025 : 75%

2030 : 85%

 

Key facts :

  • From 2008 to 2019, the growth in paper/cardboard packaging waste on the Luxembourg market was 33.3%. 

  • In Luxembourg, each citizen is estimated to produce between 119 and 147 kg of paper/cardboard packaging waste per year (2017). This is one of the highest consumptions in all of Europe. ***

  • There are currently more than 3,000 different types of paper. ***

  • Paper/cardboard made from waste paper accounted for 57% of world production in 2019. 43% was made from raw materials. ***

  • 72% of paper/cardboard is recycled in Europe *****

 

Image1
 
* Source : Eurostat
** Source : https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000078283_fre
*** Source : ECO-Conseil
**** Source : Valorlux rapport annuel 2019
***** Source : CEPI Statistics
****** Source : CITEO

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Good to know:

 

  1. Don’t tear up your cardboard waste into small pieces as it may not be identified during the automated sorting process. It will then pass into the paper sorting chain, which makes it more difficult to recycle.
  2. Don’t put your paper/cardboard waste in a plastic bag: As it enters the sorting flow, it will be classed as undesirable and will be removed from the rest of the process, as it will be impossible to carry out the visual check on its contents. As a result, it will never be recycled.
  3. Thermal paper (till receipts, fax paper) shouldn’t be put with your paper and cardboard waste. Its components may contaminate the pulp during the recycling process. Therefore, this type of paper should be put in the residual waste bin (grey bin).

 

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Glass Packaging

 

Did you know that recycling one tonne of glass avoids quarrying, transporting and processing 1.2 tonnes of natural resources?

 

How is glass packaging put on the Luxembourgish market sorted and recycled? What types of packaging are involved? Quickly find out the answers to these questions in this article.

 

Glass is one of the oldest materials used by humans. The discovery of glass was probably the result of a coincidence when Mesopotamians realized around 4500 BC that the heat of the fire transforms sand and soda into glass paste.

 

Over time, new techniques for making glass, such as molding and blowing, developed. The glass, which was still opaque for a very long time, was however already available in various colors. The first glass with great transparency was made in the Italian city of Murano in the 13th century.

 

In 1632 the diplomat Kenelm Digby invented the modern glass bottle and in 1903 the American Michael J. Owens invented the first machine capable of producing bottles automatically. It was finally during the second half of the 20th century, with the launch of electronically controlled machines, that the production volume of glass packaging was able to be increased to an industrial scale.

Glass is used in a variety of applications: flat glass, hollow container glass, fiberglass and technical applications for electronics. Glass packaging falls within the category of hollow container glass. These are inert and waterproof which makes them very stable. Due to their characteristics, they do not require any other barrier or other additives to protect their contents.

 

Glass packaging is used for various applications (non-exhaustive list), including:

 

  • Bottles of wine, beer and spirits
  • Bottles of Champagne, crémant and sparkling wines
  • Bottles of non-alcoholic drinks
  •  Bottle and jars for hygiene, beauty, cosmetics and pharmaceutical packaging (creams, perfumes)
  • Jars and preserve jars and packaging for condiments (eg jars of peas, carrots, beans, jam, pickles, capers)
  • Bottle of olive oil, vinegar
  • Salt and pepper mill

 

Of the total production of glass packaging, 98% is allocated to food applications whereas 2% are allocated to hygiene, beauty and pharmaceutical products.

Sorting

 

In the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, glass packaging can be sorted by households and collected by municipalities via different means: private bin, bottle banks, containers or recycling parks. The private bin provided for this purpose, which is collected door-to-door, is certainly the easiest way for consumers to sort at home and dispose of their glass waste.

 

By means of door-to-door collection or centralised collection in recycling parks, bottle banks and containers, glass packaging waste is then transported to the following companies: Lamesch in Bettembourg and Holzthum, Hein Déchets in Bech-Kleinmacher and Eco-Tec in Sanem. Here, major elements hindering the recycling process, are already manually removed.

 

Recycling

 

From Luxembourg, the glass is then transported to Sibelco in France. Here the cullet, that is to say the cleaned and crushed glass used as a replacement for the raw materials, will be prepared in several stages:

  • Magnetic sorting will separate ferrous metal bodies (bottle caps, jar lids and other metals) from the rest of the flow.
  • Manual sorting during which bulky waste (newspapers, cardboard boxes, plastic bags) is removed.
  • Follows the calibration phase which consists of crushing the glass waste. During this phase, the non-ferrous metallic materials are also removed via eddy currents machines (for example aluminum).
  • During optical sorting, inert bodies and infusibles (cups, plates, flower pots) are removed from the flow.
  • Finally a sorting by color is carried out

 

The cullet, sorted by color, can thus be delivered to the glassmaker. The glassmaker will take care of transforming the cullet into new packaging. For this the cullet is again liquefied in a melting furnace. It is sometimes necessary to add basic resources (sand, soda, etc.). However, the usage of cullet has become the main raw material of the glass industry, with some furnaces operating with over 90% of cullet.

The glass used in packaging products is called soda-lime glass and is made up of 3 basic ingredients when produced from natural raw materials: silicon dioxide (SiO2), sodium oxide (Na2O) and calcium oxide (CaO). However glass packaging production does no longer rely exclusively on natural resources but mainly involves cullet - this broken glass that comes from, among other things, the collection of packaging waste.

By using cullet, the production of new glass packaging saves not only natural resources but also a third of energy compared to the production of new glass. Glass can also be recycled up to 50 times without losing its qualities.

 

Glass packaging, which after use by consumers is collected by the collection systems in place in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, can thus find a second life in new glass. In 2018, 76% of glass packaging was collected across Europe for recycling. * And this collection rate continues to evolve positively. With your sorting at home, you can as such actively contribute to increasing this collection rate.

 

Here are some indicators that should encourage your sorting at home:

 

  • Recycling one tonne of glass avoids quarrying, transporting and processing 1.2 tonnes of natural resources. *
  • One tonne of recycled glass saves 1550 kWh, which is the energy consumption of an LCD TV for 858 days.
  • Recycling a tonne of glass reduces air pollution by 25%.
  • Recycling a tonne of glass reduces water pollution by 50%.

Current recycling rates

 

  • The recycling rate for glass packaging was 66,58 % for Luxembourg in 2019**
  • The minimum recycling rate required by law is 60%
  • In Luxembourg, glass packaging represents 41% of the total amount of recycled packaging waste. **

 

Recycling rate subject to legislation in Europe and Luxembourg

 

2025 : 70%

2030 : 75%

Key facts:

  • Glass packaging accounts for 18,7% of the total weight of packaging waste generated in Europe in 2018 ***

  • Bottles and pots with a metal closure have a 99% recyclability rate ****

  • One tonne of recycled glass saves 1550 kWh, which is the energy consumption of an LCD TV for 858 days

  • One tonne of recycled glass can be transformed on average into 2200 new bottles of 75 cl *****

  • One tonne of recycled glass avoids using 1.2 tonnes of natural resources needed to produce new glass

  • One tonne of recycled glass reduces Co2 emissions by 621 kg, which corresponds to 5600 km driven by car

 

Calcin de verre
* Source : FEVE.org
**Source : Valorlux rapport annuel 2019
*** Source : Eurostat
****Source : https://www.bvse.de/recycling-glas/nachrichten-glasrecycling/4328-bv-glas-studie-glasverpackungen-sind-bis-zu-99-prozent-recyclingfaehig.html
***** Source : CITEO

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Good to know :

  1. Only the packaging glass (soda-lime) can be thrown in the glass bin or the glass containers! All other glasses have other physicochemical properties that may disrupt the recycling process. (Example of glass that is not packaging glass: mirror, lamp, TV screen, light bulb, crystal, porcelain.)

  2. Don't forget to throw your metal lids, crown corks from glass bottles and jars, champagne wire caps and screw caps in the blue bag!

  3. For returnable glass bottles, it is recommended to make sure that this glass is returned to the merchant and not thrown in your glass bin or in the containers. Returnable glass can be reused without going through the melting phase, which improves their ecological balance. These bottles can be washed and then refilled.

 

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Beverage cartons

 

Did you know that the recycling rate of beverage cartons in Europe was 51% in 2019?* And that beverage cartons represent 2% of the total amount of the recycled packaging waste in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg? ***

 

How to optimize this recycling rate? How are beverage cartons collected and recycled after disposal by consumers? Quickly find out the answers to these questions in this article.

 

In 1915, the American John van Wormer filed the first patent for a beverage carton. The peculiarity of these cartons was that they were used for liquid foods, especially milk, and this since the 1930s. In order to make them waterproof, these first beverage cartons were covered with a layer of paraffin wax. Inspired by this innovative packaging and after visiting the United States, a German named Günter Meyer-Jagenberg invented the Perga packaging, a waterproof and foldable cardboard packaging for which he filed a patent in 1930 in Europe. It was the first flexible packaging available in Europe and it still inspires the production of modern beverage cartons today.

 

The real take off of beverage cartons began after World War II. The packaging was given a new shape, the well-known brick shape, in order to facilitate transportation to supermarkets which, in the meantime, were gaining in popularity and gradually replaced local corner shops. With the continuous commercialization of plastic, the layer of paraffin wax was replaced by a layer of polyethylene.

 

In 1975 another novelty was born: aseptic filling. This process guarantees an even longer shelf life of food and protects it from external contamination. This development led to the addition of a thin layer of aluminum inside the packaging, allowing beverage cartons to be used for other liquid food applications such as soups.

Beverage cartons are composite packaging, made of paperboard, polyethylene and, for aseptic beverage cartons, a thin layer of aluminum. On average, a drink carton is made of 75% paper fiber, 4% aluminum and 21% plastic (polyethylene film and HDPE cap).

 

Each layer has its own specific function. The plastic layer, made of polyethylene, acts as a barrier material and protects the contents against moisture. Aluminum, on the other hand, protects against the ingress of oxygen and light. The main material, paperboard, is made from long fibers of trees originating for 90% from Scandinavian forests and gives the packaging its foldable characteristics.

 

The combination of these materials give beverage cartons their very specific characteristics: they are waterproof, light and impermeable to light and oxygen. Their particular brick shape also makes transport easy. These packaging protect their contents both at room temperature and in the refrigerator. Because the ingredients can be stored for up to twelve months without needing to be refrigerated, they also help reduce food waste.

 

Beverage cartons are used for various applications (non-exhaustive list), including :

  • Milk
  • Chocolate milk
  • Juice
  • Fresh cream
  • Water
  • Wine
  • Soup

Sorting 

 

In the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, beverage cartons can be sorted by households and collected by municipalities via different means: the Valorlux blue bag or recycling parks. The Valorlux blue bag provided for this purpose, which is collected door-to-door, is certainly the easiest way for consumers to sort at home and dispose of their beverage cartons.

 

By means of the door-to-door collection, beverage cartons are then transported to the sorting center Hein Déchets in Bech-Kleinmacher. Beverage cartons collected in recycling parks are transported to the company Lamesch in Bettembourg.

 

At the sorting center, beverage cartons enter the same stream than all the other materials collected via the blue bag, i.e. plastic and metallic packaging waste. They can be separated from the rest of the material by means of optical sorting (NIR/Near infrared). At the end of the sorting process, beverage cartons are regrouped within one fraction of waste, are pressed into bales and are prepared to be delivered to the specialized recycler Papierfabrik Niederauer Mühle in Germany.

 

Recycling

 

The Recycling process of beverage cartons is very similar to the process applied to paper and cardboard packaging. But given the fact that beverage cartons are composed of several materials, recycling them requires an adapted process only offered by specialized recyclers and which allows recovering and separating the wood fibers from the other materials, i.e. plastics and aluminum, that constitute the inside layers of the beverage carton.

 

In order to recover the fibers used to produce new paper/cardboard, the waste is put into a hot water bath known as pulper/purifier where the fibers separate and form a pulp. It is this stage that takes longer compared to recycling single material paper or cardboard applications. Instead of 5 minutes, beverage cartons need to be in the pulper for 20 minutes in order to guarantee that the paper fibers are completely separated from the plastic and aluminum. Next, gravity separates plastic and aluminum layers from the fibers. The pulp is then spread out and dried so it can finally be wound into a roll. From these rolls, new finished paper and cardboard products can be manufactured.

The ecological advantages and disadvantages of beverage cartons are discussed controversially and often with divergent results. Recent studies show that beverage cartons have favorable impacts on climate change. The use of wood fibers as the main component as well as an easy stackable shape of the cartons and a reduced packaging weight allow to optimize transportation. On average, a truck can indeed be filled with 25-41% more beverage cartons than a truck filled with glass bottles. As far as fibers are concerned, the pulp of beverage cartons offers high quality long fibers, which can be recycled. Even if they cannot be reintegrated into packaging that is used in food contact applications, they will find a second life in products such as handkerchiefs, paper towels, toilet paper or cardboard boxes, paper bags and envelopes. The use of biogenic resources and optimized transportation thus positively impact the effects on CO2 emissions and the environmental performance of beverage cartons.

 

On the other hand, when analyzing the current recyclability of beverage cartons, this positive assessment is called into question by some associations. Since beverage cartons are a composite packaging made up of several materials, recycling of all its components is not yet carried out on an industrial scale. Thus, even if wood fibers can be recycled and reused in other products, the other materials - this mixture of polyethylene and aluminum called PolyAl - is mainly recovered for energy production. Plastic can be used as an energy source for drying pulp in the paper machine. Aluminum can be used as a binder in cement or recovered as a raw material. But, the economic viability of recycling these two components is currently not yet assured.

 

However, the major beverage carton producers promise to make improvements. They have teamed up and are combining their strengths in order to actively seek recycling solutions. One approach is to develop a process which enables to transform PolyAl into granulate that could be re-used again in new products. A new specialized recycling center will open its doors in Germany for this purpose in 2021.

 

With a European recycling rate standing at 51% in 2019, it is therefore important to continue to collect and sort beverage cartons. This rate has been steadily increasing over the past years, but can still be improved. It is for this reason that your sorting at home has an important impact when it comes to beverage cartons.

Current recycling rates

 

  • The recycling rate for beverage cartons is 71,13 % in the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg.**
  • There is no minimum recycling rate required by law.
  • In Luxembourg, beverage cartons represent 2% of the total amount of recycled packaging waste. ***

 

Recycling rate subject to legislation in Europe and Luxembourg

 

There are no specific recycling rates required by European and Luxembourgish legislation.

 

Key facts:

  • 98% of the paper fibers used for the European production of beverage cartons stem from sustainably managed European forests that are FSC or PEFC certified. *

  • Dairy products represent 55% of the beverage cartons market, juices and other foods represent 45% of the market *

  • 51% of beverage cartons put on the European market were recycled in 2019 *

  • 1,371 tonnes of beverage cartons were put on the Luxembourg market in 2019. ***

 

Image1
*ACE
** Source : Valorlux rapport annuel 2018
*** Source : Valorlux rapport annuel 2019

Why aren’t some materials currently recycled?

A number of factors explain why some waste cannot be recycled yet:
 

  • Technological advances: The recycling of each material assumes that its recycling technology exists. For some materials, recycling technology hasn't been developed yet or doesn’t enable mass waste recycling to be carried out yet.
  • Economic and ecological benefit: lack of guaranteed opportunities, waste volumes that are too low (the profitability threshold is around 25,000 tonnes), prohibitive costs indicating that it isn't economically or ecologically reasonable to consider recycling certain materials.
  • Competitiveness in relation to virgin materials: A recycling plant must be competitive with regards to virgin materials. The fluctuating price of raw materials can also influence the development of recycling chains.
  • Packaging made from innovative materials: Advances in the marketing of packaging made from innovative materials, are often a hindrance to quality recycling as the technology required to recycle them still needs to be developed.

Emptying your packaging is the first step towards quality recycling!

To ensure the collected packaging is sorted and recycled correctly, please make sure that:

 

- You empty your bottles and drinks cartons of any liquid.

- You do not leave any food scraps inside your cardboard waste (e.g. inside pizza boxes).

- You remove any food scraps from your pots, cups and trays. However, there is no need to wash them.

 

By doing this, you ensure that your recyclable packaging will enter the sorting and recycling chain. Unemptied packaging is mechanically or manually removed from the sorting and recycling flow.

You can find more information on the sorting guidelines on the "My blue bag" page.

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