World’s biggest brands put on notice over 5,000,000-tonne laminate packaging problem

24th January 2018

HUNTINGDON, UK – Big brands have been put on notice about their inaction over the world’s growing 5,000,000-tonne problem of plastic aluminium laminate waste.

Following revelations in The Times newspaper about the scale of the problem in the UK and internationally, the CEO of the company behind the world’s only solution for recycling laminate waste has called on the world’s biggest FMCG companies to support investment in new processing capacity.

Enval CEO Dr Carlos Ludlow-Palafox has written an open letter addressed to the CEOs of companies that benefit from laminate packaging, such as Unilever, Kraft, Nestlé, Mars, Colgate, Campbell’s, GSK and Hain-Celestial to get behind efforts to process post-consumer waste.

Across Europe and the US, billions of plastic aluminium laminate pouches, tubes and sachets are being discarded and sent to landfill or incineration while the consumers are often misled into thinking that they are recycled, The Times has reported.

In the UK alone more than 10 billion packets of baby foods, pet foods, cosmetics and drinks are sold annually but fewer than 1 in 20,000 is recycled. Of the remainder two thirds go to landfill and the rest are incinerated. This recycling rate is 50 times worse than that of disposable coffee cups, which has received great attention from media and politicians alike.

Because the material contains bonded plastic and aluminium, the packages cannot be treated either as plastic or as aluminium. Only the Enval process can deal with them, however currently there are no major initiatives in place in the UK or the world to collect and sort post-consumer packages and genuinely recycle them.

To process the waste, Enval has developed the world’s only commercial scale plant to deal with the material, which uses a microwave heating method to recover the aluminium into reusable ingots and process the plastic into reclaimed oil.

Manufacturers and waste companies have undertaken successful trials with the Enval plant but have failed to support wider collection and processing efforts due to a reluctance to make the initial investment required.

Enval CEO Dr Ludlow-Palafox said the lack of involvement by the FMCG brand owners and the risk-averse nature of the waste handling sector has meant the Huntingdon plant is still the only one in operation.
“We believe the time for complacency is over. FMCG brands are using laminate packaging because of its exceptional characteristics and cost and environmental benefits. Yet the fact remains that more than 10 billion pouches, tubes and sachets end up being thrown away in the UK alone. This is inexcusable now that we have an environmentally sustainable and economically viable solution. These same companies boast about their environmental credentials: it is time for some action.

“Consumers are buying laminate packaging in good faith – often either thinking it can be recycled or because there is no other choice. Big brands have reaped the benefits of advancements in packaging technology while delivering no certainty to consumers.

“The problem of single-use laminates dwarfs that of coffee cups. Brands and regulators now need to put their money where their mouth is and ensure that laminates can be genuinely reprocessed and these materials brought into a circular economy that benefits both the market and the planet.”

Independent studies commissioned by WRAP UK and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have shown that laminates can be readily separated from waste streams using conventional sorting technology. These studies also proved that a majority of householders, when asked, sort laminates for recycling for collection as they do with other materials.

Copy of the open letter.