Show your metal
A conversation with Rick Hindley, Executive Director of the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro).
What is the general state of the market for recycled metal in the UK at the moment?
Figures published on the National Packaging Waste Database by the Environment Agency show we are on track to meet or exceed recycling targets for aluminium packaging for the year. Aluminium packaging is the most valuable waste stream and the market remains strong.
Over 75,000 tonnes of aluminium packaging was collected for recycling in the UK last year, and over 60 per cent was recycled in the UK with the remainder exported. Demand for aluminium packaging scrap is strong, and growing, across Europe – driven by new recycling facilities, most recently Hydro Aluminium’s dedicated packaging remelt plant near Dusseldorf, which came on-stream last summer.
Use of recycled metal is particularly strong in the automotive industry, where demand for aluminium has increased dramatically, because it offers opportunities to reduce the weight of vehicles and thereby cut emissions. In the UK, Jaguar Land Rover and Novelis are working closely together to develop a closed-loop production model for automotive aluminium.
Given recent concerns over contamination in recycling, what steps can the metal recycling industry take to reduce contamination?
Compared to other materials, aluminium packaging is relatively easy to recycle, but contamination can arise at any point and can cause risks to collection crews, disrupt the recycling process and reduce the quality of the recycled product. At every stage, contamination has a cost and efficiency implication. But markets exist for the material, regardless of the source and the collection system – and the intrinsic value of aluminium means there is value in all material, with prices paid to collectors reflecting this.
We need to help consumers understand the ‘how and why’ of recycling and to instil confidence that industry can effectively recover materials, and that it is viable to do so. That way, consumers are motivated to recycle more. The metal packaging industry is already working with local authorities and the waste management sector to improve understanding. It’s going to take time, but campaigns like MetalMatters are having an impact and breaking down the barriers to recycling. More investment in developing consistent campaigns across all sectors and a collaborative approach would enable consumers to receive consistent information and avoid unnecessary contamination of household materials.
Recent research findings suggest confusion remains about what can be recycled and how. Everyday items made from aluminium such as aerosols, coffee pods, foil trays, and bottle screw caps are sometimes overlooked but are easy to recycle. The new recycling guidelines from WRAP will help improve consistency in communications, and Alupro will be supporting local authorities by expanding our range of free resources for local marketing campaigns and the Recycle Now metals focus.
How do collection methodologies affect market value?
Despite the success of industry’s programme to recover valuable aluminium packaging before it enters the waste stream, significant volumes will always end up as mixed domestic and, in particular, commercial waste. But it is not all lost. One of the areas of growth for recycled metal is aluminium recovered from incinerator bottom ash (IBA).
Whilst focusing on recovering materials through a closed-loop recycling system is always going to be industry’s preference, newer treatment technologies are making a valuable contribution to recycling performance across Europe, by enabling the extraction of even the smallest aluminium particles from waste. Treatment of IBAs and techniques like pyrolysis make it possible to recover the aluminium used in composite and laminate packs, e.g. blister packs and food and drink pouches, for which no viable recycling process currently exists. With the growth of energy from waste, these technologies will play an increasingly important role in reaching the challenging targets the metal packaging industry has set itself – and to achieving a more circular economy.
In the UK, the impact of the new protocol for packaging recovered from IBA is evident in the WasteDataFlow figures for 2016. The majority of IBA reprocessors are accredited to issue packaging recovery notes (PRNs) on the aluminium recovered. We estimate that just over 20,000 tonnes is recoverable annually from incinerator bottom ash and we expect this figure to double by 2025.