Drink Carton Recycling Campaign

Drink Carton Recycling Campaign
Drink Carton Recycling Campaign
Drink Carton Recycling Campaign
Drink Carton Recycling Campaign
Drink Carton Recycling Campaign
Drink Carton Recycling Campaign
Exploring sustainable recycling
Promoting responsible production

Our Recycling Story

In 2016, we launched a drink carton recycling campaign in Hong Kong, making us the first organisation to do so. Upon rolling the campaign out in schools, hotels, a theme park and the community in phases, we then introduced an innovative “Cash Reward” model, where drink cartons can re-enter existing recycling chains. This helped establish a holistic and sustainable recycling system in Hong Kong.

Drink cartons are made of paper, plastic and aluminium, all of which are recyclable. However, they were not being recycled due to the lack of technology, facilities and resources.

When the first carton recycling plant was built in 2019, the scale of recycling gradually grew, but the recycling rate remains very low. Around 23,000 tonnes of drink cartons are discarded each year in Hong Kong. They are wasted when dumped into landfills, and such dumping exacerbates land constraint issues and waste problems, and hinders the development of the local recycling industry.

Countries like Taipei, South Korea, Japan and Germany have different recycling regulations, including the Producers Responsibility Scheme, that offer producers economic incentives to recycle their own products. Producers are required to support recycling, which encourages them to manage waste at the source by streamlining material selection and packaging design.

Drink cartons, being composite materials, have more complex recycling processes. We hope that by advocating drink carton recycling, people in Hong Kong can pay attention to the recycling policies:

  • Local recycling industry engagement is in baling and export only, which require low-level technology. There is no economic incentive to recycle composite materials such as drink cartons, which require a higher cost.
  • Without a Producers Responsibility Scheme and producer support, the recycling of composite materials will have less market value.
  • Without municipal charges on solid waste, the public will lack the incentive to recycle. Even with capable facilities, the recycling rate will still be low.
  • Without legislation and producer support, the recycling industry will be stuck at a rudimentary technology level and lose out on becoming a high value-added industry; with a poor recycling rate, the industry is in a vicious cycle and cannot achieve optimal operational efficiency.

We will continue advocating for government implementation of a Producers Responsibility Scheme for all beverage containers and food packaging producers. We urge producers to be responsible for the environment and support the local recycling industry. At the same time, we hope the recycling of drink cartons will boost society's demand for recyclable materials. Together, let’s strive to improve waste management in Hong Kong!

Milestones

Jan 2023:
In a Legislative Council document, the Government stated that drink carton will be included in Producer Responsibility Scheme. Producers will be required by law to recycle drink carton.
Jan 2022:
Green@Community started to recycle drink carton. After years of urges by Green Power, drink carton finally became an “official recyclable”.
Jul 2020:
Oct 2019:
The first drink carton recycling factory Mil Mill was officially launched and realized the local recycling of drink carton.
Sep 2019:
Green Power kick started a new wave of recycling and education programmes in primary schools.
Jul 2019:
The numbers of Green Power Community Collection Points reached 18
Dec 2018:
Beverage producers set the first-ever recycling target, which is to recycle 90% of beverage packages by 2025, including drink carton
Nov 2018:
Jul 2018:
Green Power launched the first drink carton recycling in community
Dec 2017:
Jungle All the Way Exhibition @PMQ
15,000 Drink Cartons were Folded into 36 Sparkling Christmas Trees
Nov 2017:
Jul 2017 :
Jul 2017 :
Green Power launched the first drink carton recycling programme in theme park
Oct 2016 :
Green Power started a drink carton recycling trial in hospitality industry (26 restaurants in 5 hotels). Carton will be sent to Thailand to make building materials for charities.
Press Release: Hotel Sector Begins to Recycle Drink Cartons Falling Paper Prices Lead to Difficulty in Recycling (Chinese only)
Jun 2016 :
Producers are urged to take up recycling responsibility
Press Release: Producers Should Take Up Their Responsibility Immediately to Recycle Drink Cartons (Chinese only)
Jan 2016 :
Green Power launched the first drink carton recycling campaign in Hong Kong: Trial recycling in primary schools, and sent to Japan to manufacture PRF (Refuse Paper and Plastic Fuel)

About Drink Cartons

Cartons are the second most commonly used (approximately 17%)* packaging for beverages in Hong Kong. Cartons are also used for household items such as broth and corn kernels, as well as egg custard and cream in large-scale eateries. Every year, 22,995 tonnes^ of waste carton are dumped in the landfill annually, which is equivalent to 2.1 billion cartons, enough to cover the area of 3,477 Hong Kong Stadiums.

There are two types of drink cartons. Aluminium foil cartons are made of paper, plastic and aluminium, while milk cartons are made of paper and plastic. All these materials can be recycled and reused. Drink carton recycling is common worldwide. The recycling rate in Japan is about 45%, Europe 40%, Taiwan 30% and mainland China 10%.

There are different ways of recycling drink cartons. A common method is to recover paper constituents and recycle them into different paper products, where the plastic and aluminium are made into plywood or fuel. Some methods involve turning the whole carton into composite panels and fuel, or separating all materials (paper, plastic and aluminium) and recycling them into different raw materials.

High or low recycling value?

The main component in drink cartons is paper (75% in aluminium foil carton; 85% in milk carton). Longer paper fibres can be recycled into more durable paper products. In particular, the paper in milk cartons is made from bleached wood pulp, and they have high recycling value as the recovered materials can be made into premium-quality paper.

Drink cartons also contain plastic and aluminium. The processing of such a composite material is more complex and costly, lowering the recycling value. Most places with high drink carton recycling rate actually have a Producers Responsibility Scheme in place to encourage recycling.

Can we put drink cartons into the wastepaper recycling bins?

No! Drink cartons are not only made of paper, they also contain plastic and aluminium. Aluminium foil cartons contain 20% plastic and 5% aluminium, while milk cartons contain 15% plastic. Drink cartons are composite materials, so they cannot be recycled as general wastepaper.

* Drink Without Waste Research Report (2018)
^ The latest Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong (2021)

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