- 14 Aug 08, 02:58 PM GMT
That aluminium can is not only metal, your cardboard drinks carton is more than just cardboard and a disposable coffee cup is unlikely to be mere cardboard and wax.
Given that plastic is very good at being waterproof it is perhaps unsurprising that many drinks containers have a plastic lining - although this knowledge is making it very difficult for me to get a drink when I am out and about.
In the case of aluminium fizzy drinks cans, the lacquer lining is to stop the acid in the beverage from eating into the metal which would weaken the can and taint the drink.
As shown on the website of colourful US television science presenter Steve Spangler, it is possible to dissolve the outside of the can to reveal the thin polymer (resin) inner.
However, this does not affect aluminium's status as one of the most fully recyclable materials.
Furthermore, the lacquers are burnt off in the recycling process and the resulting gasses used to help power the furnace.
Cartons used for juice, milk, soup and other liquids are made up from layers of paperboard and low density polyethylene (LDPE).
Those which need a long shelf life also have a layer of aluminium foil to protect the contents from light and oxygen.
In the past, this mix of materials has made cartons problematic to recycle but the Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (Ace UK) has funded a £1.5 million recycling programme across the UK.
Most local authorities do not allow cartons in doorstep recycling collections because they do not have the sorting facilities to deal with them.
However, 85% now have recycling points where residents can take their cartons - although this may mean extra car journeys.
The Ace UK website has a map showing which councils collect cartons, as well as details of a postal scheme.
The collected cartons are baled and shipped to a Swedish paper mill for recycling - a process in which the cartons are mushed with water to form a grey sludge which is used to form new paper. The polyethylene and aluminium are used to help power the mill.
The UK's leading carton manufacturer, Tetra Pak, says it offsets the carbon emissions involved in shipping the bales to Scandinavia.
A paper mill in Fife which used to take cartons, closed at the end of 2006 but a new British facility is currently under discussion.
Finally, waxed paper cups. These do still exist, made from cardboard with a paraffin or microcrystalline wax coating.
However, many cups, especially those used for hot drinks, are coated with a thin layer of polyethylene.
In a recent development, some manufacturers have started using a bio-plastic - corn-based polylactic acid (PLA) - instead of polyethylene.
This means the cups can be composted although this is not necessarily a preferable option to recycling.
Environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth also argue we should be cutting down on disposable items, no matter what material they are made from.
All of which leaves me with limited options for drinks on the go: at the moment, it's water, water or water.
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