Aluminium packaging faces tough recovery challenge

Nearly twice as many aluminium cans will have to be recycled in the UK by 2001 if the sector is to reach its 50% recycling target. But even this level of growth will not suffice to meet an industry target to recover 46% of all aluminium packaging waste - including foil - by 2001.

About 24,400 (20%) of the 122,000 tonnes of aluminium packaging consumed last year (see table ) was recycled, according to estimates by the Aluminium Material Organisation (AMO), which represents companies supplying aluminium packaging materials.

Of the aluminium packaging recycled, 23,000 tonnes (94%) was cans. This was 7,000 tonnes less than in 1995, but the can recycling rate still rose from 28% to 31% as aluminium lost market share to steel. There was little change in the number of recovery schemes.

In its business plan, AMO is aiming to recover 46% of aluminium packaging and recycle 60% of aluminium cans by 2001. Its goals are to recycle 50,000 tonnes of cans - more than double the 1996 figure - and recover 8,000 tonnes of other aluminium packaging by 2001. It has assumed annual organic growth in output of 2% across the sector.

AMO's plan is based on the assumption that a national network of around 25 material reclamation facilities (MRFs) will be sorting packaging from multi-material schemes in 2001.

In contrast, the Aluminium Can Recycling Association (ACRA) is sticking to its less ambitious target of recycling 50% by 2001. This suggests that AMO's 46% target for all aluminium packaging may be optimistic.

ACRA's National Manager, Alex Griffin, believes that Valpak, the main collective scheme set up to achieve compliance with the new packaging regulations, will not rely for long on the market mechanism alone, but will set up joint venture investment projects. "This illustrates very well," he told ENDS, "that if no one's planning multi-material programmes, we will not meet the national targets."

ACRA's more modest plan still means that 39,000 tonnes of cans will have to be recycled in 2000 and 43,000 tonnes in 2001 - almost double the current amount. To achieve these targets, it reckons that around 55% of cans will be recovered from cash-for-cans schemes, 14% from can banks, 5% using eddy-current separation (ECS) units to remove aluminium at mixed refuse plants, and 25% from kerbside collections.

Mr Griffin said that AMO has no plans to set up its own compliance scheme along the lines proposed by the paper and glass sectors, because aluminium packaging is a much smaller sector and the necessary overheads would make it too expensive.

To recover the remaining 8,000 tonnes of aluminium packaging by 2001, AMO hopes that 10% of closures (800 tonnes), 20% of aluminium aerosols (1,400 tonnes) and 20% of foil (5,640 tonnes) will be collected. These figures include energy recovery from an estimated 2,000 tonnes of material. In the right conditions, thin aluminium foil can oxidise in municipal incinerators, releasing energy.

Around 400 tonnes of foil packaging were recycled in 1996, according to the Aluminium Foil Recycling Campaign (AFRC). Excluding rolls of household foil, which is not covered by the new regulations, consumption was around 23,000 tonnes, giving a recycling rate of 1.7%, says the AFRC. But AMO believes that about 6,000 tonnes of imports need to be added to the consumption figure, reducing the current recycling rate to 1.4%.

The AFRC believes that recovery rates will be increased through the spread of multi-material kerbside schemes and MRFs using ECS technology. The organisation is co-sponsoring a trial by Bath and North East Somerset Council to separate foil from aluminium cans using ECS.

  • The average recycling rate for aluminium cans in western Europe last year was 37%, according to Aluminium Can Recycling Europe, compared with 31% in the UK. Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Finland and Germany all recycled more than 80%, while France had the lowest rate of 14%.

  • Please sign in or register to continue.

    Sign in to continue reading

    Having trouble signing in?

    Contact Customer Support at
    or call 020 8267 8120

    Subscribe for full access

    or Register for limited access

    Already subscribe but don't have a password?
    Activate your web account here