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UK aluminium can recycling rate jumps to 55%

Saturday, Jul 03, 2010

The UK's aluminium can recycling rate increased from 51% in 2008 to 55% last year but more needs to be done to increase the rate further in light of potentially tougher packaging recycling targets in the future, according to the aluminium packaging recycling trade body Alupro.

The figure was unveiled by Alupro chief executive Rick Hindley at the organisation's 2010 conference, held at the Heritage Motor Centre in Warwickshire yesterday (July 1), where attendees also received an update on the organisation's communications work, foil and aerosols campaign and efforts to encourage the recovery aluminium packaging from mixed residual waste.

And, Ian Atkinson from Defra's producer responsibility unit also provided the latest information on the department's consultation on proposed packaging targets for 2011 to 2020, revealing that, while the consultation had closed with 96 responses received, those were yet to be analysed and the department had not had an "indication" of any ministerial views on the process.

Commenting on the 4% increase in the aluminium can recycling rate from the 2008 figure (see letsrecycle.com story), Mr Hindley hailed the 55% recycling rate as a "major achievement".

And, with the aluminium packaging recycling body marking 21 years this year, he also highlighted the increase in the overall aluminium packaging recycling rate from less than 2% in 1989 to 41.8% in 2009.

"Aluminium packaging recycling has come a long way in the last 21 years," he said, and also claimed that, since 1989, the aluminium industry had invested more than ?50 million to encourage collection of the material and improve recycling rates.

But, he also stressed there were several areas where the sector needed to focus to achieve more progress, including:

- The target proposed by Defra for 70% of aluminium packaging to be recycled by 2020 (see letsrecycle.com story). "We have to recognise we work in a system that isn't perfectly suited to our needs," he said, "so we have set ourselves a 65% target by 2020";

- the barriers presented by local authorities being driven by weight-based, bio-waste focused targets;

- value from the sale of cans "often doesn't flow" to councils;

- differences between kerbside systems;

- "infrastructure is not delivering - the away from home infrastructure is just starting".

As a result, Mr Hindley pointed in particular towards a future focus on both recovering more material ‘away from home' and extracting it from mixed municipal waste.

Mixed municipal waste

The potential for obtaining aluminium from mixed municipal waste was outlined at the event by Paul Dumpleton, director of materials management at Shanks Group.

He claimed that, based on Shanks' experience in recovering materials from MSW at the site it operates at Frog Island under the East London waste PFI, it would be possible to recover 54,400 tonnes a year of aluminium from the 17 million tonnes a year of MSW the UK was expected to produce once all PFI contracts had been let.

"There is 54,000 tonnes of potential opportunity," he said, but noted both that the pressure to recover the material was "price driven" and that "if this volume doesn't materialise by 2020 when PFI contracts have all come to fruition then it will not be arriving".

At the event, Mr Hindley noted that, with this metal being "not necessarily suitable" for reprocessing into cans, "we're just about to embark on a project to find out whether we can get the metal from Shanks' process back into cars".

It was revealed that this would involve Shanks working with Jaguar Land Rover to explore the potential for using aluminium recovered via MBT in the manufacture of new vehicles.

But, Mr Hindley added: "The most important thing is that if it happens and if we get it back into cars we can get it counted as PRNs."

Packaging consultation

While aluminium packaging recycling targets are set to increase under Defra's packaging consultation, Ian Atkinson from the department said he was unable to give an "overall picture" of the 96 responses that had been received to the consultation due to the number of questions and range of opinions offered.

He was also unable to provide detail on exactly what the coalition government's position on bringing forward the new targets was, instead explaining that: "Ministers are aware of the consultation but we have had no indication of their opinions.

"We'll analyse the responses and make recommendations to ministers but no decisions have been made," he added.

However, he did note that responses from the aluminium sector were "backed by sound analysis and data" and he said that Defra was "encouraged" by the sector's inclusion of a plan to reach the 65% goal which it had proposed as an alternative to the government's proposed 70% target for the material.

Every Can Counts

In terms of the campaigns and communications work being undertaken by Alupro to boost aluminium packaging recycling rates, the event heard from the body's marketing and communications manager, Diana Caldwell, about the ‘Every Can Counts' initiative, which aims to boost can collections in the workplace and ‘on-the-go'.

She revealed that, since the campaign's summer 2009 national roll-out it had a "growing network" of service providers collecting cans from what was now nearly 3,000 recycling points.

"It's taken maybe a little longer then we thought to get going but the results so far are very encouraging," she said.

With the campaign being expanded to on-the-go recycling through a trial on Bournemouth beach last summer, Ms Caldwell said it was repeating this initiative this year, as well as putting six of the ‘Ecopacteurs' used to collect cans in Eastbourne and also Woolacombe in Devon.

And, she revealed that Every Can Counts was also working with a "major property company" to launch the initiative in there shopping centres.

While she acknowledged that there was a cost involved in buying the units used to collect cans, she stressed the fact that the ‘Ecopacteur' units were designed so they could only be used for cans, and therefore "by investing in them the quality of metal means you do get the value of the material and a return on your investment".

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