Beverage cartons: recycling through the PMD circuit

Used beverage cartons are collected through the PMD circuit. All of the materials that they contain are recovered and reused in a wide range of products. The sorting and recycling processes are continuously being fine-tuned.


Sorting and separating to prepare for recycling

Collection. Beverage cartons are collected in the blue PMD bags together with plastic bottles and flasks, and metal packaging. They are also collected at container parks.

Sorting. These different types of packaging are then sorted in various sorting centres. Beverage cartons are usually automatically separated from the other fractions either by eddy current or through Near Infrared (NIR) optical sorting. They are then compressed into bales of about 500 kg.

Processing. As with old paper, beverage cartons are recycled in paper mills. The cardboard fibres are separated from one another in a pulper (large rotating drum or tank filled with water). This also separates out the plastic and aluminium layers. The paper pulp obtained is then passed through several purification stages before being transformed again into new paper products. The plastic and aluminium are also recovered by the industry.

Fibres for paper, additives for cement

Recycled cardboard is used in the paper industry to manufacture boxes, cardboard covers, and dust-jackets, as well as kitchen rolls, toilet paper, paper bags, egg boxes, and napkins. ‘Pulp from recycled beverage cartons is very useful for the paper industry’ stresses Magda Buelens of Recarton. ‘This is because beverage cartons only contain new wood fibres. This enables to obtain long-fibre pulp after recycling.

Such pulp gives recycled products additional robustness and often replaces virgin pulp in applications requiring superior quality.’

Plastic and aluminium can be used in the cement industry. Plastic is used as a source of energy for the ovens; aluminium is a catalyst for the production of cement


A stable recycling circuit

In Belgium, approximately 77% of all beverage cartons sold are recycled through the collection of PMD. This figure can still be improved through systematic information and communication campaigns.

The available recycling capacity is presently sufficient for the beverage cartons that have been selectively collected. The majority of beverage cartons collected in Belgium are processed by a paper mill located in Germany, close to the Belgian border. This paper mill transmits residual materials — plastic and aluminium layers — to a cement factory. Other European, Asian, and American paper mills often recycle plastic and aluminium layers differently, for instance:

  • by transforming them into granulates which, once heated, can be pressed into a variety of products (components for automobiles, pallets, posts, et cetera).
  • by drying the material, then fragmenting it and pressing it into plates that can be used in roof constructions, among other products.
  • by pyrolysis: the material is brought to a sufficiently high temperature for the plastic to be transformed into gas that can be used as an energy source in the paper manufacturing process. This temperature, however, must be controlled so that the aluminium remains intact and can be remelted for use in various products by the aluminium industry


Improving the environmental balance further

Beverage cartons that have reached their end-of-life are perfectly suited for recycling (see Nevertheless, the sector is continuously pursuing efforts in making further improvements in the environmental balance. Present research primarily focuses on innovative recycling techniques for polyethylene and aluminium, as well as in the optimization of existing technologies.

The Website provides additional information on the recyclability of the various types of packaging. You can test whether your packaging will be recycled or not by using a decision tree.

Recarton and ACE

Recarton is an independent organization. Fost Plus calls upon Recarton as an expertise centre for the collection and recycling of beverage cartons.

ACE Belgium is the Belgian branch of the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment, a cooperative effort of European paper producers and beverage carton manufacturers.


Plastic materials: avoiding complex packaging

PET and HDPE bottles are collected through the PMD circuit. They are recycled using highly sophisticated processes. The quality of the material obtained, as well as its possible applications, depends strongly on the collected material. That is why it is important to strictly follow the design for recycling rules.

A clever process ensures quality

Collection. Plastic bottles and flasks are collected through the PMD circuit.

Sorting. The PMD materials brought to the sorting centre are sorted partly manually and partly automatically. The plastic flasks and bottles are sorted into four different flows, according to their material and colour. The flows include transparent PET (polyethylene terephtalate) bottles (clear, blue, and green) and HDPE (high density polyethylene) bottles. Each colour and type is then compressed into large bales.

Recycling. The bales are uniform, but still contain foreign substances such as content residues, caps, labels and/or residues from other materials (metal, cardboard, or other plastic materials). These foreign elements are gradually extracted by a sequence of techniques. The plastic is then crushed, purified, and washed. During this process, all unwanted materials are extracted by NIR (Near Infrared) scanning, by flotation, by aerodynamic separation (air or water cyclones), as well as by other separation techniques (ferrous and non-ferrous). The recycled plastic to be integrated into new products is eventually delivered in the form of flakes or aggregate.

Raw material for various applications

About 20% of the PET that is recycled in Europe is used in the manufacturing of new bottles and flasks destined for food contact and similar applications. The remaining recycled PET is found in the production of various products, including textile products (45%), plastic films (22%), and straps (11%) (Source: PCI,
Recycled HDPE is used for, amongst other items, drain pipes, tanks, boxes, and new flasks.

A stable PET market

The quality of recycled PET has gradually improved. Today, it is almost equal to the quality of new PET. ‘Thanks to modern recycling techniques, we are able to produce bottles containing 100% recycled material,’ notes An Vossen of Plarebel. ‘In practice however, it is always mixed with new PET. This avoids any discoloration and results in transparent bottles that are in demand by consumers.’ The portion of recycled materials in PET bottles varies between 10 and 50%. This ratio is not expected to increase in the years to come since there are an increasing number of other outlets for recycled PET, primarily in the plastic films industry. ‘It is important that sufficient materials are available for recycling, given the fact that the demand for recycled PET is higher than the supply,’ she adds.

The HDPE market is sensitive to fluctuations

The market for recycled HDPE is characterized by the diversity of its applications: drain pipes, by-pass channels, tanks, boxes, stabilizing slabs, screens, and even car seats for children. Drain pipes are the primary outlet in the building sector, which is subject to the greatest market fluctuations

In 2009, this car children’s seat won the EPRO International Design Competition for Best Recycled Plastic Product.

Good sorting is critical in obtaining quality

In order to achieve quality recycling, it is important that the bales are pure and homogeneous. ‘Certain materials can significantly disturb the recycling process,’ explains Vossen. ‘Metallic caps can damage the shredder blades or block the filters. Paper pulp sticks to the equipment.’ Silicone and motor oil residues also affect the quality of the recycled materials.

Excessive amounts of PVC can be extremely harmful since it colours transparent PET bottles, causes black spots to appear, and makes textile fibres more fragile. One single PVC bottle can substantially affect the quality of an entire 250 kg bale. 

That is why correct sorting inside the sorting centre is essential for subsequent product quality.’

Avoiding problems at the source

Many problems can be avoided at the source by making the right choices in terms of packaging design. ‘Packaging design is of primary importance,’ observes Vossen. ‘Combining materials of equal density, such as PET with PLA or PVC, for instance, must be avoided because they can not be separated by flotation.’ In addition, a growing number of bottles contain ‘barrier’ materials and/or additives, which often complicate recycling. In the PET bottles for fruit juice, for instance, a nylon barrier is sometimes added. ‘This is not optimal because the recycled

PET then becomes more yellow. We recommend avoiding complex bottles as much as possible. From a technical point of view, it is possible to fine-tune the sorting and separation steps, but that makes the recycling process more complex and therefore more costly.’

On the Website, you will find specific guidelines and advices for combining materials in plastic bottles in view of their recycling.


The Website provides additional information on the recyclability of the various types of packaging. Using a decision tree, you can test whether your packaging will be recycled or not.


Plarebel is an independent organization that Fost Plus calls upon as an expertise centre for the collection and recycling of plastic packaging.


Metal packaging: the recycling rate continues to grow

The majority of metal packaging is recycled today. Metal is easy to remelt in order to generate new materials. It can easily be used anew in a wide range of applications — virtually indefinitely. Thanks to the good recycling rates achieved in Belgium and in Europe, less primary metal is used and more recycled material is called upon instead. The steel packaging recycling rate in the 27 EU countries continues to progress: it stood at 71% in 2008.

From the PMD bag to remelting

Collection. Metal packaging is primarily collected door-to-door through the PMD bags (Plastic bottles and flasks, Metal packaging, and Drinks/beverage cartons). Part of this packaging is also collected at the container parks. The collected metal packaging includes used tin cans, empty beverage cans, trays, and other containers such as aerosols for cosmetics and food.

Sorting. The contents of the PMD bags are sorted at sorting centres. One of the benefits of steel is that it can be separated magnetically. As for aluminium, it is generally sorted by means of eddy current machines.

Recycling. Once sorted, the steel packaging is compacted into packs and aluminium packaging into bales. Scrap metal dealers then carry out an additional qualitative sorting of these packs and bales. Finally, they are resold to aluminium foundries and steel mills in order to charge ovens and for integration into the manufacturing process of new metal products.

Recycled into numerous applications

Recycled steel packaging is used to manufacture new steel that will be used in the building and automotive sectors, in household equipment, or again for packaging.

New aluminium obtained from recycled material enables the production of packaging, as well as components for buildings and transport.

More and more recycled metal

Steel and aluminium can be recycled indefinitely — regardless of the number of recycling cycles — without losing their physical and chemical qualities. The steel packaging recycling rate continues to progress in the 27 EU countries, and stood at 71% in 2008. Today, the annual steel production in Europe amounts to 200 million tons, of which about half is manufactured from scrap. Indeed, the electric arc furnace process enables the manufacturing of steel entirely from scrap.

As for aluminium, a strong evolution can be observed in Europe regarding its recycling rate. Recycled aluminium accounts for 50% of the entire aluminium packaging fraction. In some countries, it even exceeds 90% for beverage cans.

Towards 100% recycling

Steel already incorporates a manufacturing process that uses only scrap. The question remains, however, whether it will be possible in the future to manufacture all of the steel and aluminium we need from scrap. In practice, a mix of primary and
secondary material is often used because a large quantity of metal is collected in long-term applications such as buildings and vehicles. One must thus wait several years before recovering the metal. On the other hand, since packaging has a shorter life cycle, it can be available much more quickly to produce new metal. In the case of beverage cans, for instance, recycling is carried out within 60 days when the collection and sorting systems are well organized.

Energy and raw material savings

The recycling of metal packaging enables the saving of raw materials such as iron ore and bauxite. However, it also achieves significant energy savings. ‘By using steel scrap or aluminium waste, it is possible to obtain the same metal quality with less energy than is required to produce primary metal,’ pinpoints Luc Braet of Stalupack. ‘In addition, the recycling of metals considerably reduces CO2 and nitrogen (NOx) emissions. As for sulphur (SO2) and perfluorinated compounds (PFC) emissions, they are reduced by more than 90%. The high sales prices of the sorted metals highlight the quality of the treatment that they undergo.’

Multiple sector initiatives

‘We have launched a campaign to inform the public of the actual results of recycling,’ concludes Braet. ‘This campaign was undertaken with Fost Plus and illustrates, among other things, that it is possible to produce an entire bicycle with 600 recycled beverage cans. We hope to further increase the quantity of collected metal packaging.’


Stalupack is an independent organization that Fost Plus calls upon as an expertise centre for the collection and recycling of steel and aluminium packaging.

The Website provides additional information on the recyclability of the various types of packaging. You can test whether your packaging will be recycled or not by using a decision tree.

For additional information


Glass packaging: making recycling easier

The primary method of collecting empty glass packaging is the use of bottle-banks. A high-quality recycling process enables the glass to be recycled multiple times. That is why it is essential to efficiently sort the collected glass. Similarly, it is important to design packaging that does not hold any material that might complicate the recycling process.

A collection process in several stages

Collection. In Belgium, the collection of household glass primarily occurs through bottle-banks. Separate bottle-banks are available for colourless glass and for coloured glass. In addition, certain bottles are taken back through deposit systems for reuse.

Recycling. The collected glass is sent to recyclers, who remove all foreign matter from it. First, the extraction of ferrous metals is carried out by means of magnetic sorting. Then, most of the obvious and visible pollutants are removed through manual sorting. The remaining glass is subsequently crushed and then passed though a machine which sucks out labels, as well as the other materials which are lighter than glass. All non-magnetic elements are then extracted using eddy current. Finally, optical sorting machines purify the glass by removing opaque pieces (chinaware, gravel, ceramics, et cetera) and refining the separation of colours.

At the glass manufacturer. The material obtained at the end of the collection and recycling process is called cullet. This cullet is sold to glass manufacturers, who melt it and use in new products.

The circle is closed

The glass sector was the first to organize the recycling of its products. This began as early as the middle of the 1970s. Most glass packaging is recycled in order to be reused as packaging. In theory, it is possible to produce packaging containing 100% recycled glass. In practice, however, such a figure is rarely achieved.

In the case of coloured glass, the portion of recycled glass is limited to 80% of the total in order to enable better control of the frit kiln. For colourless glass, this fraction is limited to 30%, primarily for commercial reasons. Often, recycled colourless glass takes on a slightly ‘dirtier’ appearance, which can make the packaged product less attractive.

Recovered glass that can not be recycled into new products in a glass mill is used for other purposes. For instance, foam glass is integrated into concrete blocks or used as an under layer in roads.

Avoiding non-fusing materials

Vous pouvez tester la recyclabilité de vos emballages sur le site, où vous trouverez aussi des informations sur le « design for recycling »

‘The primary concern of glass manufacturers is to obtain quality cullet that is as homogeneous as possible,’ explains Jean-Pierre Delande of Filglass. ‘Certain plastic decorating sleeves and labels, for instance, adhere strongly to glass. They hold pieces of fragmented glass together, thus hampering a correct sorting process. Similarly, the complex ceramic closing systems used on certain jars must be avoided since they complicate the recycling process, even though they can give the product an attractive retro look. It is also easier to recycle glass packaging that has used water-soluble or synthetic glues for its paper labels.’

‘It can also be tempting to integrate non-fusing materials (stones, chinaware) as a decorative element. However, these materials disturb the recycling process of jars and bottles because their melting temperature is higher than that of glass. These fragments
cause internal tension that is often invisible but which can lead to breakage of the glass — even after it is put on the market. That is why it is important to eliminate non-fusing materials that might enter the bottle-banks during the collection and recycling stages.’

In addition, non-fusing glass such as Pyrex creates problems for recyclers because detecting it is difficult and may require heavy investments in order to achieve the specifications demanded by glass manufacturers. Consumers that put Pyrex glass into bottle banks do not realize the difficulties that they cause to recyclers. This is especially the case since these objects are not actually packaging in the first place.

You can test the recyclability of your packaging on the www. Website. There, you will also find information on design for recycling

CO2 emissions reduced by 28%

‘The benefit of recycling glass primarily resides in the fact that it saves energy, since a frit kiln can be heated to a lower temperature,’ adds Jean-Pierre Delande. ‘This means less consumption of natural gas or fuel, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The incorporation of 60% of cullet thus enables a reduction in CO2 emissions of 0.17 tons for every ton of manufactured glass, which amounts to a 28% reduction.’

In addition, the recycling of glass enables the saving of raw materials such as sand, limestone, and soda. Even though these are relatively cheap, their reduced use also entails savings in terms of their extraction and transport.

Finding a compromise between marketing and ease of recycling

‘Given the relatively closed cycle of glass recycling, glass manufacturers do not want to disturb the recycling process and risk complicating the reuse of glass,’ adds Jean-Pierre Delande. ‘Glass manufacturers therefore try not to complicate the design of bottles and other packaging. Yet marketing and design staff constantly  press to exploit the creative potential of glass. In practice, an optimal compromise must therefore be found.’

It is important for glass manufacturers to be able to count on the constant quality of cullet


Filglass is an independent organization that Fost Plus calls upon as an expertise centre for the collection and recycling of glass packaging.

The Website provides additional information on the recyclability of the various types of packaging. Using a decision tree, you can test whether your packaging will be recycled or not.

Pour en savoir plus


Paper and cardboard: 55% of recycled fibres in paper and cardboard manufactured in Belgium 

Paper and cardboard have been recycled in large quantities for many years. The quantity of recycled material going into new products varies greatly, depending on the application. Only a small fraction goes into superior quality graphic paper. However, corrugated cardboard uses up to 80% in its composition. It is therefore important to carefully manage the recycling flows of used paper. The sector continues to undertake numerous efforts to make ever-greater volumes of paper/cardboard available for recycling.

A well-oiled recycling process

Collection — Several methods are used to collect used paper and cardboard. In most Belgian cities, the intermunicipal authorities carry out this collection door-to-door. In addition, the cities also provide dedicated containers in the container parks. Likewise, a growing number of companies organize the selective collection of their paper and cardboard waste.

Recycling — Specialized companies purchase the collected paper and cardboard and carefully sort it. Approximately fifty of these companies are active in Belgium. They supply fibres from more than fifty types of used paper to the paper industry. At paper mills, the paper fibres are separated from each other in water, until a grey paste is obtained. This paste is carefully cleaned in order to remove foreign matter such as staples, lacquer and varnish, remains of glue, and pieces of plastic and rope. This is followed by several washings and fractionating to separate the long fibres from the short ones. The result is a homogeneous pulp. For the production of certain types of paper, the pulp must also be de-inked and then whitened.

Thanks to these rigorous processes, the end quality of the recycled pulp is well known and stable. The paper industry is perfectly familiar with applications for which this pulp is ideally suited.

Packaging: a market for recycled fibres

The quantity of recycled material in paper and cardboardbased products varies widely. To illustrate these differences, the sector often uses the recycling pyramid. On top of the pyramid is superior quality graphic paper, which contains only a limited amount of recycled fibres. It is followed by plain white paper, which contains a little higher percentage. At the next level are the household and sanitary applications, such as kitchen rolls and toilet paper, where the ratio of recycled fibres reaches up to 30%. This ratio rises to almost 50% in newsprint.
Paper and cardboard packaging form the broadest base of the pyramid; they are comprised of up to 80% recycled fibres. ‘The recycling pyramid has to be viewed as a whole,’ explains Ilse Vervloet of Fetra. ‘New fibres are indispensable in the making of superior quality paper, but it would not be reasonable to use as many new fibres to manufacture cardboard packaging. On the contrary, such packaging represents an important market for the subsequent recycling of superior quality paper products.’

The influx of new fibres remains necessary

Thanks to careful collection and sorting, the sector today succeeds in reusing all of the recycled paper. In addition, each new product represents an equilibrium in terms of the portion of recycled fibres. For  this portion to increase further,’ states Jan Cardon of Filpap. ‘For economic reasons, the sector uses as much recycled fibres as possible. For instance, we have already reached a maximum for packaging. In addition, the (sometimes unilateral) request to reduce the packaging weight is in contradiction with the will to use more recycled fibres. Often, a larger amount of recycled fibres is indeed required to achieve the same robustness as is possible with virgin fibres.’ 

Depending on the application, a certain quantity of virgin fibres therefore remains necessary. Moreover, it is not possible to use the same wood fibres indefinitely, as these eventually get damaged during successive recycling cycles. Consequently, a continuous supply of virgin fibres is indispensable in the overall paper production cycle.

Choosing the appropriate paper type

For economic as well as environmental reasons, it is important to choose the appropriate type of paper or cardboard. ‘It’s the same as for clothes: when your children are going out to play, you are not going to dress them up as if it were a special occasion,’ observes Ilse Vervloet. ‘It is therefore important to determine what type of finished paper product is the most suitable for each type of pulp. Even though virgin paper fibres might be required for graphic applications, for instance, they are not necessary for newspapers.

In order to be sufficiently robust, beverage cartons need virgin fibres. However, recycled fibres are perfectly suited for other types of packaging. Each application thus finds its most appropriate place in the pyramid.’

Fostering recycling through design and communication

Certain types of packaging contain foreign elements such as plastic carrying handles. In such cases, it is better to plan right from the design stage on making it easy for consumers to remove the handles themselves in order to avoid complicating the recycling
process. You can find additional information on the recyclability of packaging at Collection is the most sensitive link in the paper and cardboard recycling chain. ‘We must therefore guide the consumer in this field,’ says Vervloet. ‘To efficiently and economically recycle paper,’ adds Cardon, ‘it may not contain too many materials other than fibres. It must be clean and free of any greasy substances. Preferably, it should be packed in a cardboard box or bound into stacks with natural rope or string.
It cannot be wrapped together in adhesive tape. We must clearly communicate this to the public.’

The sector wants to collect more used paper

For many years, recycling has been a key component of the paper industry. In Europe, about 66% of used paper is recycled, and there is still room for this figure to grow. ‘There are plenty of applications for recycled paper,’ points out Ilse Vervloet. New sources are always welcome. That is one reason why we want to improve the collection of used paper in office buildings.’

Given the fact that a supply of virgin wood fibres will always be necessary, the sector gives considerable attention to the sustainable management of forests. ‘The renewable character of the raw material is an additional benefit of paper and cardboard,’ explains Cardon. ‘We plant as much raw material as possible. A distinct increase can be observed in the number of production forests at the European level.’ 

The Website provides additional information on the recyclability of the various types of packaging. You can test whether your packaging will be recycled or not by using a decision tree.


Filpap is an independent organization that Fost Plus calls upon as an expertise centre for the collection and recycling of paper and cardboard packaging.


The federation of paper and cardboard transforming industries (Fetra) was created in 1946. It brings together the manufacturers of foldable cardboard, corrugated cardboard, and paper bags, among other players.