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Boosting UK aluminium recycling could save millions

The UK could almost double the national aluminium recycling rates, says the think tank Green Alliance in a new report. It calculates that such an improvement would cut emissions and save EUR 50 million of wasted resources every year.

Entitled ‘Closing the loop: four steps towards 100% aluminium packaging recycling’, the study assesses the government’s recent Resources and Waste Strategy and four accompanying consultations. It concludes that beefing up the strategy could drastically improve UK recycling rates for aluminium packaging and also as boost plastic packaging rates.

The latest data for 2017 shows that 51% of aluminium packaging is currently recycled. In the case of beverage cans, it is as much as 72%.

Easy to recycle 

However, Green Alliance calculates that more than EUR 50 million of aluminium is being wasted each year. It laments the fact that the metal is one of the ‘easiest materials to repeatedly recycle’.

The report calculates that improvements to the government’s proposed reforms could reduce the amount of aluminium wasted from 49% to just 3%.

Specifically, Green Alliance is calling for targeted measures to boost the quality of aluminium waste streams and reduce contamination, which currently means higher costs and poorer quality materials for reuse. It argues the government should strengthen its plans for a deposit return scheme (DRS) for specific types of beverage packaging, by introducing an ‘all-in’ scheme, and improving kerbside collections.

‘DRSs in Europe have shown it is possible to recycle nearly all drink containers on the market, providing a clean stream of high value material to feed back into the manufacturing process,’ the report states. ‘Principles for a UK system that achieves similar levels of recycling include ensuring containers of all sizes and composition are collected. This reduces the amount of aluminium lost to landfill and prevents consumer confusion.’

Better collection a must

The report also calls for improved kerbside collections to standardise the current ‘haphazard system’ and make sure valuable sources of aluminium, such as food cans and foil, are collected from homes nationwide.

‘As the crazy days of burying or burning our finite resources come to an end, we can finally design proper collection systems that deliver high quantities of high quality resources,’ says Samantha Harding, litter programme director at the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England. ‘That’s why the only logical approach to a UK-wide deposit system is to include every bottle, can and carton.’

In her view, an ‘all-in’ system is the most economically viable and the simplest for consumers. ‘It will also help create new jobs in a thriving recycling sector and relieve struggling local councils of the huge financial burden of waste management by making those who produce these vast amounts of packaging rightfully liable for the costs of dealing with it,’ Harding says. 

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