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Take-back machines proven to boost aluminium recycling

Europe – The EU should put more effort into formalising the informal recycling of aluminium beverage cans, industry body European Aluminium concludes from a study carried out by the Vienna-based Institute of Waste Management at BOKU University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences.

‘Formally counting cans that are already collected informally is an easy way to boost official recycling rates,’ comments Raphael Thevenin, chair of European Aluminium’s packaging group. ‘Not only that, but it will more accurately reflect the true recycling practices of each country.’

Considerable numbers of used beverage cans are collected by waste pickers, particularly in south-eastern European countries such as Romania, Greece and Hungary. The study estimates that, on a daily basis, an informal collector amasses an average of 1.6 kg of used beverage cans. The installation of take-back machines is claimed to yield proven benefits.

For example, by placing some 200 machines in strategic locations such as supermarkets, in five years Hungary’s Returpack system captured 15-20% of the country’s total market for used beverage cans, representing 58% of all informally collected cans; similar machines were recently installed in Romania. Collection machines ensure fair payment in exchange for the raw material, it is stressed. Moreover, they have the added benefit of ‘inciting behaviour change by involving consumers in the act of recycling’.

However, these machines alone are not the solution, according to the study. Extended producer responsibility schemes continue to play an important role in formalising the informal, it is argued. And existing schemes can be improved – for example, by designing bins in such a way that theft of the scrap is prevented.

The BOKU study was conducted in the light of the aluminium packaging recycling targets proposed in the European Commission’s Circular Economy package. Recycling rates for aluminium beverage cans in Europe are already above 70%; the EU is discussing a target of 75% by 2025 while European Aluminium’s members are aiming to reach 80% by 2020.

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