What is the problem with whisky bottles and recycling?

The UK Recycling Association has placed whisky bottles onto its list of top recycling offenders, highlighting the products that are the most difficult to reuse. The difficulty with whisky bottles is primarily down to the mix of materials used for packaging and the way in which this is constructed. The technical mix of materials means that components which could otherwise be recycled, are instead, ending up at landfills or burned in incinerators.

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The main problem with whisky is the cardboard tubing with the bonded metal base and metal lid that holds the bottle. CEO of the UK Recycling Association, Simon Ellin, said that the lid would either head to aluminium recycling or steel recycling, but the metal base is the main problem as it is bonded to the cardboard cylinder and extremely hard to recover for recycling.

This is a problem even with the current advancements to waste processing technologies. Already, infrared lasers are used to pick out a range of shapes, colours and polymers.

Technology stumped

However, in this case, although the tube would be picked for cardboard recycling, the load would be contaminated by the bonded metal base, glued with a metal bonding adhesive such as those made by http://www.ct1ltd.com/.

This base piece of metal will invariably go to incineration or landfill after blocking up the cardboard filters. The main offenders are the single malts produced by Highland Park, Laphroaig and Glenfiddich, among others.

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Ignoring the problem?

Frustratingly, the whisky brands themselves are refusing to engage with the problem, and instead, allow the Scotch Whisky Association to respond to any queries on the point. When pressed, the SAW says that the use of cardboard tubing and bonded metal is a commercial decision that whisky makers need to make.

The drinks industry has made great strides in taking a more environmental approach to its product packaging and the SWA also has its own recycling agenda which it created in 2009 and updated in 2016.

Part of these measures include reducing packaging, increasing the amount of recycled material, and making packaging as light as possible. The aim is that all whisky packaging will be recyclable or reusable by 2020. New technologies are also being investigated that would remove the need to bond cardboard and metal together in a way that prevents easy recovery for recycling purposes.