The UK’s largest buyer of used aluminum cans, Novelis, has highlighted the improvements it has made to its can recycling facility in Warrington in recent years in order to boost performance.
The facility at Latchford Locks was built in 1991 and Novelis, which operates in 11 countries across the world, says it has the capacity to process every aluminum beverage can sold in the UK, the equivalent to around 117,000 tonnes a year.
Novelis takes in material from local authorities and commercial outlets in the UK and imports some tonnages from Nordic countries. These are processed at Warrington where they are shredded, decoated and melted into an ingot which is transported to Germany by road and train. In Germany the ingot is used for rolling into a sheet for can-makers.
In 2013 Novelis invested £1.7 million into the facility as part of an upgrade programme.
Then in 2016, Latchford Locks underwent repairs and maintenance work after an aluminium ingot was dropped, causing considerable damage. A separate incident later that year also saw the production process disrupted by an equipment failure which saw supplies of used aluminium cans to the plant halted (see letsrecycle.com story).
Speaking at the Cheshire facility at the end of June, Andy Doran senior manager of sustainability and recycling development at Novelis Europe, emphasised the closed loop nature of the process and spoke about the quality challenges the company faced.
Commenting on the contamination levels of used cans coming into the plant, Mr Doran explained that this is generally around the 10% mark. “The process at the facility is a system which is running consistently at more than a 90% recycling rate, and the challenges around that are ensuring the quality of material coming in doesn’t compromise these levels. The alloy input also need to be right, and you may need to re-alloy sometimes.”
Novelis has been reporting a major uptake in new markets across the continent for aluminium, as producers look for alternatives to plastic for beverages.
This includes beverages ranging from water to wine, which is now one of the fastest growing aluminium markets for the company in Europe.
- Cans are brought to the facility where they are prepared for recycling
- The finished product, ready to be made into new cans
- Novelis takes in material from local authorities and commercial outlets in the UK
- Cans can be shipped, recycled and brought back in around 8 weeks
From the can making side, a perspective that aluminium has advantages compared to other packaging came from Marcel Arsand, sustainability manager for the UK and Nordics at Ball Corporation and chairman of The Can Makers.
Cans are easy to be sorted (all you need is an eddy current) and have a high intrinsic value
Mr Arsand said: “Aluminium beverage cans are the most recycled beverage containers in the world, and therefore have numerous benefits when compared to other packaging. From the consumer’s perspective, they are lightweight, shatterproof, quicker to chill and provide a total light barrier so the taste of their drink isn’t affected. Due to the size, they also provide great portion control, especially for the younger and more health conscious shopper of today.
“For brand owners and retailers cans are easily stackable with great cube efficiency, meaning less vehicles on the road and more cans on shelves. They also represent less fees in terms of producer responsibility.”
Mr Arsand also reasoned that sorting aluminium cans is ‘easy’. He said: “For recyclers and re-processors, like Novelis, cans are easy to be sorted (all you need is an eddy current) and have a high intrinsic value. Also cans are permanent materials that don’t lose their quality during remelting and can be back on shelf as another can in as short as eightweeks. That is the ‘circular economy’ in action.”