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Questions raised over UK metal recycling figures

United Kingdom – The UK’s recycling targets for steel and aluminium packaging have been based on incorrect data, says a new report from the country’s Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and compliance expert Valpak.

The study was meant to test the 2012 and 2013 put-on-market figures for the aluminium and steel sectors as published by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra). Those figures are said to give a slightly distorted view, with the volume of aluminium being underestimated while steel was overestimated.

The ‘most robust’ estimate that could be derived, based on publicly-available data, suggests that the quantity of steel packaging put on the market was 524 000 tonnes in 2012 and 529 000 tonnes in 2013.

‘In 2012, the level of steel reprocessed by accredited reprocessors totalled 358 000 tonnes, suggesting a recycling rate of 68%,’ the report adds. Steel reprocessed by unaccredited parties is said to have been ‘minimal’ at 9000 tonnes; including this figure would have increased the recycling rate by two percentage points to 70%.

Meanwhile, the volume of aluminium packaging put on the market has been calculated at 178 000 tonnes for 2012 and 174 000 tonnes for 2013. Volumes handled by accredited reprocessors was 62 000 tonnes in 2012, suggesting a recycling rate of 35% while inclusion of the 19 000 tonnes reprocessed by unaccredited parties would have upped the rate to 46%.

Inaccuracy in the Defra data is due to a ‘not particularly sophisticated projection’, says WRAP. For example, previous analysis failed to include external future factors like the maturity of the collection system and the timing of potential policy interventions.

And yet the report concludes that the EU recycling target of 50% for metal packaging was met in 2012. ‘At best, it is exceeded by 14%, at worst by 10%,’ it says.

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