Beverage carton material cycle – environmental and financial advantages for all stakeholders

Closing the waste recycling loop is crucial for the introduction of circular economy. That is exactly what Municipal Material Cycle (MMC) has achieved when it comes to used beverage cartons. The carton part of a beverage carton, which is collected in a certain local community, is repurposed and recycled into hygiene paper products, such as towels, tissues, and toilet paper. These are then used in the same local community. Niko Kumar, Managing Director of Circular Shield, d.o.o., which supervises MMC, has shared with us that the support of the municipality (mayor) and the local waste management company is crucial for the material cycle to be successful in any local community.

The Municipal Material Cycle of beverage cartons and hygiene paper can include municipalities, waste management companies, companies for the collection and management of waste materials, and public institutions in the local community. How many entities are already participating in Slovenia and how could the results be assessed?

The first Municipal Material Cycle of beverage cartons and hygiene paper in Slovenia was established in the Municipality of Novo mesto and seven neighbouring municipalities where waste management is conducted by Komunala Novo mesto. They were followed by the Municipalities of Ljubljana and Brežice. Last year, five municipalities from the Gorenjska region were added to the group at the initiative of Komunala Kranj and the Municipality of Kranj.

How can a certain entity become part of the Municipal Material Cycle?

In order to establish the MMC in a certain local community, the support by the municipality, i.e. the mayor, and the local waste management company is crucial. Take-back systems, the manufacturer or the recycling company, and the local hygiene paper distributor also cooperate. In order to close the material loop and for the MMC to operate, also paper users must be integrated into the material cycle. These are public institutions and companies within the same local community where the used beverage cartons are collected. The most frequent users are schools, kindergartens, municipal facilities, public companies in the municipality, healthcare centres or hospitals, sports facilities, cultural establishments, music schools, libraries, etc. In the areas where the project is already being implemented, around 100 companies and institutions are already using the recycled hygiene paper from their own material cycle.

The market is facing a lack of many raw materials and issues within supply chains, which even underlines the need for the usage of secondary raw materials and the introduction of recycling flows. What are the effects of Municipal Material Cycle and to what extent can it contribute to preserving primary raw materials?

After a bit more than five years since we pioneered the Municipal Material Cycle, we can clearly say that the MMC does not only do what it is supposed to. It is also a circular model with proven benefits and savings. First and foremost, the benefits are environmental since CO2 emissions and the consumption of primary raw materials are reduced. No more trees need to be cut down to get cellulose for the production of hygiene paper products. It is obtained from waste materials from within the local community, which makes this material a precious resource. Environmental benefits are recorded for each MMC separately and published on our website. Also financial savings have been recorded, which are even larger in case of common public calls for tenders. At the same time, our circular model is a response to the raw material crisis.

Pure cellulose is difficult to obtain, and its price is high; therefore, the recycling of the carton part of beverage cartons is not only beneficial for the environment, but also crucial for the long-term management of material and related financial flows as well as stability.

Which challenges are you facing in the introduction and implementation of the Municipal Material Cycle? How does this kind of hygiene paper and other products from recycled beverage cartons meet the criteria of green public procurement and how do they meet the safety and hygienic standards?

The model operates within the existing waste used beverage cartons management system in the local community. No changes are needed here. It is, however, important and necessary that all partners be interested in as well as motivated for introducing such a material cycle. This is the part that is still the most challenging one – it requires a harmonised, cooperative approach as well as a certain change of mindset. We actively take part in all phases and help in the establishment of a partnership among all stakeholders. We take care of controlling the quantities of processed waste packaging and of the quality of the suppliers of final products. Hygiene paper products made of recycled beverage cartons meet all the criteria of green public procurement. Their quality also equals that of products made of pure cellulose, which is substantiated by environmental, hygiene, and dermatological certificates. We have, however, noticed that we will need to keep evolving the cooperative circular culture and boost the trust in recycled beverage carton products since their appearance differs due to the colour of the cellulose – they are not dyed nor perfumed. For consumers, this is actually an advantage. But the market still has not recognised it to the extent one would expect and to the extent necessary if we want to pursue the set environmental goals.

The interview with Niko Kumar Circular Shield CEO was published in EOL magazine