European aluminium can recycling rate reaches 74.5 per cent

Rows of aluminium drinks cans
Aluminium cans are equally recyclable, regardless of size, colour or design
Statistics from European Aluminium and Metal Packing Europe’s recent report show that the overall recycling rate for aluminium beverage cans in the European Union, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland reached an average of 74.5 per cent in 2017 – an all-time record.

Rising 2.3 per cent from the previous year, almost 31 billion cans were recycled in the EU and EFTA countries in 2017, representing a total of more than 420,000 tonnes of aluminium and underscoring its contribution to the European circular economy.

According to the data, Germany had the highest aluminium can recycling rate at 99 per cent, followed by Norway, Finland and Belgium, all reaching 98 per cent. Malta was bottom of the league in 2017, recycling only 30 per cent of its cans, and Romania was the next lowest at 36 per cent.

The UK’s performance was middling at 72 per cent. However, further data from the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro) in July this year indicates that the UK’s aluminium can recycling rate rose in 2018 to 75 per cent, or three out of four cans, a huge leap from the 54 per cent calculated in 2010. Another Alupro report suggested that the trend is predicted to continue rising, potentially reaching 85 per cent by 2020.

Aluminium is infinitely reusable, with no loss of quality and all aluminium cans are equally recyclable, no matter the colour, design, format or size. Recycling aluminium consumes 95 per cent less energy than producing it from raw material, while the recycling process generates only five per cent of the greenhouse gases emitted through raw material production.

As aluminium is one of the easiest materials to recycle, European Aluminium advocates that ‘Europe should strive towards 100 per cent recycling of all aluminium containing products to achieve full circularity’.

According to European Aluminium, can manufacturers (members of Metal Packaging Europe) and their aluminium suppliers are confident that the European can recycling rate will continue to climb in the coming decade, primarily through a combination of measures such as improved collection systems, and incentive-based initiatives such as modern deposit return schemes (DRS) and voluntary take back (‘cash for cans’) schemes.

Maarten Labberton, Director Packaging Group at European Aluminium, stated: “As we move towards our 100 per cent recycling rate target, what matters most is the recycling yields. Aluminium is well positioned for the future given its very low losses during recycling.”

Impact of DRS in the UK

The collection and recycling of aluminium beverage cans could be greatly affected by the introduction of a DRS, which appears on the horizon in the UK.

From January 2021, Scotland will be implementing an ‘all in’ Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) to boost the country’s recycling rates. This involves a deposit of 20 pence being placed on all drinks containers of between 50 millilitres and three litres in size made from aluminium, steel, glass and PET plastic. The deposit can be recouped when returned to a designated return point for recycling – for example, using a reverse vending machine.

While this could be a positive for the recovery of aluminium cans, there is also widespread concern that, because the deposit will be added to each individual container, consumers could potentially switch away from multipacks of cans to buying larger plastic bottles, in order to avoid higher deposit charges, leading to more plastic on the market.

Discussions are ongoing regarding a DRS across the rest of the UK, with some advocating an ‘on-the-go’ scheme, rather than the ‘all-in’ model going ahead in Scotland. In an ‘on-the-go’ model, a deposit would only be placed on singular drinks containers purchased for consumption out of the house, meaning multi-pack cans could potentially be excluded from the scheme altogether.

A deposit return scheme is set to be introduced across England, Wales and Northern Ireland no later than 2023.

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