Pop goes my drinks choice

  • Chris Jeavans
  • 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.

stevespanglersoda203.jpgIn 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    If the drinks machine where you work doesn't have a "no cup" button so you can dispense into a china cup, then how about getting a Thermos flask? Yes, it has plastic parts, but you aren't going to throw it away after just one use.

    Or a camping stove, small kettle and stash of teabags! Gas canisters can be recycled nowadays, but Coleman make several models of stove which run on unleaded petrol. Once you get used to the lighting procedure, your eyebrows will soon grow back and stay back :)

  • Comment number 2.

    When I was younger, we would sometimes squeeze oranges (by hand) to get home-made orange juice.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm with ajs_dy on the thermos, and you can get stainless steel ones quite cheaply in a well known supermarket.

    Tough for the water though - it's difficult to find one in the shops that isn't in a plastic bottle and the cups at water coolers are usually plastic.

  • Comment number 4.

    anything wrong with tap water #3? Or if you are not at home reuse a (large) plastic water bottle and fill it with tap water before going out.

  • Comment number 5.

    I take drinks with me, and then I'm never caught out (it saves me money too)

    And for those who find there is nothing in their area for tetrapalk, it's worth checking that site every couple of months as new facilities are turning up all the time.

    We finally have one just a couple of miles from our home, which turned up unannounced one day :)

    Well done Chris - you are sharing some invaluable information with your readers.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Chris,

    Since starting my work experience this week, I have become totally addicted to your blog!

    I think its great that your giving everyone such valuable information regarding environmental issues such as this!

    As for the drinks problem, you could always take your own plastic-free mug to work, or buy bottled water that comes in a glass bottle, though not sure how good that would be for the environment!

    Looking forward to tomorrow!

    Aaron x

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Chris,

    Glad you are keeping up the campaign.

    Tetrapak is a popular choice, though I dont use it, and ACE's recycling effort is what we need.

    Aluminium/plastic in commodity packs is a problem as there is no way to recycle yet, despite its wide range of use.

    For drinks use lemons, sugar, water and heat. Chill for use, delicious.

  • Comment number 8.

    A certain high-street coffee chain (the green one) offers a discount if you bring your own cup. Why not do that?

  • Comment number 9.

    Perrier is sold in glass bottles (may have a plastic lining inside the cap)

    Also some coffee high street chains sell flavoured waters in glass bottles

  • Comment number 10.

    This blog has been uplifting in an odd way. I go through the same nit-picking analysis of everything I buy (albeit in a less formal manner). It's good to know that I'm not the only one over-analyzing every berry or beer purchase.

    I've accepted that living without plastic is nearly impossible, so I settle for minimizing my overall ecological footprint. I drink filtered tap water instead of bottled drinks, I carry my reusable bottle with me everywhere I go, and I try to minimize waste.

    The biggest reduction in my personal ecological footprint has been going vegan. As a child I learned about factory farming, and the waterways in North Carolina that had been destroyed by hog farms. I also learned about the Amazonian rainforest being destroyed to support beef production, and I learned that an obscene portion of our grain crops are going to chicken production. The solution was simple--I stopped supporting those industries. In the past few years I have been able to increase the portion of my diet that is produce organically. For more information, please visit

  • Comment number 11.

    Sorry Chris, but water is really good for you and many of us don't drink enough!

    I think you should opt for tap water unless yours is polluted which I don't think it is. Tea and coffee might be more problematical but you have been offered many options.

    As for juices, We have been told here in the US to avoid them because they contain too much concentrated sugar. Better for you to eat a fresh orange, apple, guava, mango etc. Then to drink it in juice. Fresh lemonade is wonderful in the summer and lemons contain less sugar. Just watch how much sugar you add!

    What about iced tea for a summer drink? We drink gallons of it here. Add a little lemon and sugar, very refreshing on a hot day!

  • Comment number 12.


    Good for you!

    Entirely too much meat is consumed in many parts of the world to the detriment of many who are starving and suffering because grains and vegetables are being fed to animals or made into biodegradable 'plastics' instead of being used for food by hungry people.

  • Comment number 13.

    I can also add that in the Us, to my shame, we are using corn to produce bio-fuels while many people starve.

  • Comment number 14.

    I used to rally against cartons because they were not practical to recycle. However, it has become clear that as containers, they are the cheapest to produce in terms of energy. Producing a carton uses far less energy than required to make a can.

    From what I've read it seems that these cartons are the most eco-friendly packaging we can buy these days, regardless of the plastic or the recycling issues - the energy is the bigger issue.

  • Comment number 15.

    #14 wrote 'I used to rally against cartons because they were not practical to recycle. However, it has become clear that as containers, they are the cheapest to produce in terms of energy. Producing a carton uses far less energy than required to make a can.

    From what I've read it seems that these cartons are the most eco-friendly packaging we can buy these days, regardless of the plastic or the recycling issues - the energy is the bigger issue.'

    I'm not convinced. I haven't seen figures for tetrapak, but I would be surprised if this were the case. Of all the packaging materials, aluminium has the highest cost when made from virgin ore - but has relatively low costs when recycling from scrap. Tetrapak has reasonably high costs of manufacture, and also has high costs associated with recycling. It is multi-layered, requires much processing, and I don't think that shipping used tetrapak cartons many miles for recovery is sustainable as a result. I haven't yet found a lifecycle assessment justifying the use of tetrapak over other more recyclable alternatives - including the use of plastic.

  • Comment number 16.

    People are DRIVING to a recycling point to deposit a milk carton, which is then moved by LORRY and SHIP and LORRY again to a factory in Scandanavia for recycling?

    The more I hear of this 'environment' stuff the madder it sounds.

    This sounds more like the mesianic zeal of a new religion than anything to do with science or saving the world.

  • Comment number 17.

    Not being a fizzy drink sort of person, I tend to drink tap water when I'm thirsty and I use a glass. I use a small re-usable plastic bottle filled with tap water when I go out or on a journey. Mind you, the water here in Birmingham is the best !

  • Comment number 18.

    I drive to the local supermarket, which now charges you if you use a plastic bag, but pays you if you use your own...There they have introduced a TetraPac recycling bin. A huge metal box really, with a picture of the lorry using a pump to suck the contents from the bottom. The lorry runs on liquid gas (as do many of the local ambulances).

    The local council has introduced their green vehicles (electric power,) try to explain how the weight of the batteries increases weight, and how local electricity is produced, coal burning).

  • Comment number 19.

    Appletise/Peartise comes in glass bottles as do some fizzy waters so it's not just plain water that's available! Also some of the local farms around the country do juice in glass bottles. Only problem is that although some have metal caps, some have plastic.

  • Comment number 20.

    Keep going! love the blog :-)

    - Did you know that Brazil has started to recycle tetrapaks? and reusing all the parts?
    I belive Sao Paulo now has a factory to do so now... so the plastic, aluminim and card all get a new lease of life!

  • Comment number 21.

    p.s can't we start doing that here as well - Throughout Europe ???

  • Comment number 22.

    #17 - fisher85

    Yes the water in Birmingham is great, I loved it. But then it does come from Wales!

  • Comment number 23.

    #21 - stj-stp-green

    Tetrapak recycling is done in the UK, just not particularly widely. Recycling points are popping up all the time, my nearest is in the carpark of my local supermarket.

    Someone mentioned DRIVING to deposit a used carton/bottle etc, which then is transported and processed and recycled, then manufactured. Well, in order to make that container again from scratch, the raw material would have to be transported, processed and manufactured, so why not expend that energy on reusing a material that already is there, rather than landfilling it, which is just saying the material is worthless and throwing it away. This is why I and a few others keep banging on about life cycle analysis. It's this tool which helps to show where the two possibilities differ and which one is cumulatively 'better'.

    For example, adding recycled glass (known as cullet) to a furnace to remake bottles reduces the energy requirement hugely and stops that material from clogging up landfill. It also reduces the demand for the raw material, so reducing energy requirements there, and transportation required. Similarly with aluminium, it takes 2 tonnes of bauxite to make 1 tonne of aluminium so gathering used material reduces energy requirement in manufacture, transport, etc.

    You have to consider the whole life cycle, provenance, energy requirements and EVERY stage. Improved recycling facilities are key to sustainable life cycles, for plastics even moreso than most materials.

  • Comment number 24.

    #16 jon112uk

    So you have finished your carton and can either recycle it or put it in the rubbish bin. Both require collection by a truck and then some form of onward transport to either a recycling plant or disposal facility.

    Surely Jon you will recognise that if we continually send rubbish to landfill, we will run out and that if people take their recycling to the supermarket, WHEN they do their weekly shop, an extra journey is avoided.

    Sounds quite logical to me....

  • Comment number 25.

    Dr David Lewis, a director of Sussex University-based Mind Lab, said the frustrating recycling infrastructure was partly to blame for the negative public opinion of packaging.

    "People tend to blame packaging for the inability to recycle, without appreciating its value in terms of extending shelf life. They don't see that fruit, for example, would not have been in the same condition if it had been in a large box rather than a bag.

  • Comment number 26.


    This is where the government should step in and force councils to all collect the same recycling:

    food waste/organics
    packaging - glass, metal, plastic

    It works in Europe.

  • Comment number 27.

    #26 - green_bob

    Absolutely couldn't agree with you more. I did read something about thinktank recently, as co-ordinating the councils is proving tougher due to funding etc. I'm not making excuses, that's just how it's progressing at the moment.

    I've always thought a joined-up, strategic approach to kerbside collection is key in getting 'refuseniks' to recycle. Also, in European cities they have big bins for daily waste disposal that are emptied every day (they also allow separation of waste). I would suggest this for areas with lots of flats, but no doubt someone would come along to empty them all over the street before the rubbish truck comes along.

  • Comment number 28.


    Also in Europe, they have recycling bins on street corners, so you can get rid of a day or two worth of stuff if you walk past bins to work etc. I have stayed in hotels in mainland Europe with recycling bins outside and have put my rubbish in these.

    Here, in many towns, one needs a car to get access to the bins

  • Comment number 29.

    As a rough rule of thumb;
    it takes 2kg of oil to make 1kg of plastic
    18kg of oil to make 1Kg of 'virgin' aluminium.
    Recycling aluminium is much better, it takes just 5% or so. About 1Kg of oil.

    The recycling rates for aluminium is hard to find out, I have seen anything from 30% to 70% (European Aluminium Foil Rollers Association).
    At the best recycling rates 1Kg of aluminium will have taken 6 or 7Kg of oil. The best recycling rates come from those countries where waste is incinerated and the aluminium is recovered from the ash.

    If you burn plastic, in a combined power and heat power station say, it has the same energy content as the 'oil' it replaces!!

    Q.e.d. plastic bad, aluminium good and the earth is flat.

  • Comment number 30.


    Are you advocating incineration? Have it near you. I wonder what your neighbours would say.

    To compare useful aluminium with useless plastic packaging waste is a bad joke. The worst aspect is when useful aluminium is joined with useless plastic to end up in landfill. Who designed this?

  • Comment number 31.

    #29 - plastic does indeed have the same energy as the oil it replaces. However, it took extra energy to make that plastic out of oil-based product, and you won't get anywhere near back what you put in.

    PET - 84MJ/Kg to make from scratch.
    Calorific value 71 MJ/kg.

    Assuming 60% gross efficiency in CHP plant (and you're struggling to get this - heat only is better, but go with your CHP example), you'll get about 71*0.6, or c.43MJ energy out.

    In other words, even if you burn that plastic optimally, you'll lose about 50% of the energy it cost to make it in the first place.

    To recycle the same kg of plastic takes about 0.5MJ.

    Recycling wins hands down over EfW for plastic.

    BTW - your figures for aluminium are skewed. Specific energy production figures for aluminium are around 56MJ/kg for the bauxite - aluminium smelting step. The calorific value of crude oil is around 45MJ/kg. You're suggesting here that 17/18ths of the lifecycle cost comes from the mining, refining and distribution steps. This does not sound likely to me.

    You are correct about the low energy consumption involved in making aluminium from scrap though. Average recovery rates are 40-50% from memory.

  • Comment number 32.

    #30 - You appear to be confusing traditional incineration with modern EfW here. It's about the best way of dealing with the residual waste stream. Personally, if I knew a modern gasification or mass-burn heat-only plant was planned for my neighbourhood, I'd be quite happy with this - it would show a good degree of forward planning by the decision makers.

    Neither aluminium nor plastic packaging waste are 'useless'. Both are eminently recyclable. The process needs work, but neither is a bad environmental option provided that recovery is optimised.

  • Comment number 33.


    While the plastic industry refuses to take responsibility for the landfill impact of its processes the plastic packaging waste there is less than useful.

    A sustainable process with minimal production is a far better choice with the potential for Zero Landfill. Then there would be Zero waste packaging, a worthy ideal.

  • Comment number 34.


    I have been to 2 sports arenas in the past two weeks. The first was Wembley stadium to see the charity shield the second was to Vicarage road to see Watford play Charlton.

    At both venues I was amazed at the total lack of any attempt at recycling of waste generated by the spectators and also the businesses serving them.

    At Wembley I purchased a beer and pie for £7.40. The beer was dispensed in a plastic jug and the pie in a cardboard container [similar to a big mac].

    When finished the only place to deposit my waste was a strong clear plastic rubbish bag. So I had no choice but to place both items in the one sack along with any other rubbish any spectator cared to deposit. This does not take into the account the cardboard and plastic and other materials connected with the delivery of the products.

    There were estimated to be 80000 people there for possibly three or more hours. I cannot estimate the weight of the rubbish but would guess that it could not be less than 2 tons. This was on its way to either a landfill or a burning station.
    This will be repeated for as many occasions as Wembley hosts.
    At Vicarge Road for myself and my family I purchased 2 pints of beer [dispensed in plastic containers] two cokes in plastic containers a hot dog in a cardboard container and a cup of tea in a plastic covered cardboard container.
    As at Wembley stadium there was a convenient strong clear plastic bag attached to the front of the kiosk into which all waste was deposited. When I enquired whether this practice made recycling difficult I was informed that the plastic bags would be thrown into a series of industrial size green wheelie bins [there were 9] and they would be then collected and put in a crusher and taken off to land fill. Admittedly ther were “only” 8000 people present but the same procedure as Wembley was taking place

    Repeat this picture across all the sporting venues and it seems to me that the council tax payers are penalised by the authorities big time and its a crime not to separate your wate – but ALL businesses can escape this draconian rule by paying for the priviledge.
    So – what is my reason for writing?

    Is the “green” recycling agenda really only lip service? Does it mean that the highest waste producers can be allowed to escape the recycling Gestapo by paying the piper a princely sum to carry on polluting?
    Does this put the great plastic bag debate into the shade by comparison?
    Can something be done in the massive budget for the Olympics so we do not have to cope with “the worlds” rubbish for a fortnight?

    Or will this be conveniently airbrushed out of sight – so as to speak.

    I look forward to some constructive comments as to how responsible recycling compliance can be enforced on businesses which are too able to side step this issue.

    Or will it mean that the councils will see their income diminished by such an extent that it would be politically inappropriate to pursue?

  • Comment number 35.


    wasteaware, there is really no point in blaming councils for this situation. They might collect your rubbish and recycling, but they have no influence over businesses, who in the end will make the decision that benefits their bottom line. The packaging you talk about is so light that it won't cost that much to landfill and there isn't much value in the plastic pint cups and cardboard burger trays, especially when they are covered in ketchup.

    If on the other hand, the venue is throwing away lots of aluminium cans and plastic bottles, which have a high monetary value, then chances are they are looking into a recycling programme.

    Why not contact the venues themself, to see what they have to say?

  • Comment number 36.


    The world of business has escaped scrutiny so far, apart from the plastics and food industries. Home waste is a big item and improving the situation here is the first priority.

    There are other problem areas to address and these will be confronted in due course.

  • Comment number 37.

    The recycling of business or commercial waste will accelerate when members of the public start asking questions of the companies we buy goods and services from.

    Home waste is the same as business waste. A restuarant throws away food and glass, an office throws away paper and cardboard, a gym throws away plastic bottles and drinks cans. We need to join the two up, not treat them as separate problems.

  • Comment number 38.


    As householders we can impact on our home bin waste. Telling business what to do is a different ball game. Where I worked before summer there was no recycling whatsoever. When I enquired about recycling they just laughed it off. Special treatment will be needed to attack that particular area of waste.

  • Comment number 39.


    While your efforts to reach zero waste a very commendable, a typical restaurant or retailer will discard more food in a day than the average household does in a month.

    Consumer pressure will have a role to play, as will tighter regulation (and its enforcement) from government agencies.

  • Comment number 40.

    The fleeces I bought for my children from Tesco the other day - school uniform section - all have labels on them which proudly proclaim that they are made from recycled POP BOTTLES!

    A perfect example IMO of the whole reuse, recycle, reduce mantra.

  • Comment number 41.

    I had similar thoughts regarding separating waste today while packing up my stall on the local market. In a council-run facility there were no facilities for separating waste at all, it all went in the dumpsters outside. Grim and aggravating.

  • Comment number 42.

    #41 - trogette

    Given LA's are planning to start fining residents who do not recycle as they should, perhaps your LA will be fining itself soon......

    Parks, high streets, public places are all examples of LA's failing to offer the right recycling facilities / opportunities. Just think about how may PET bottles and sandwich skillets are disposed of every lunchtime in every town. Collecting these would push figures forward at pace.

    Interestingly Scotland is trying to just that right now. Strange our central govt dont want to lead it.


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