Waste reforms ‘could push aluminium recycling’

Environmental think tank Green Alliance has called for all aluminium packaging to be included in proposals for a ‘core’ set of materials collected for recycling by councils.

A report issued by the organisation today (11 March) has claimed that as much as 97% of aluminium packaging could be recovered if cans are included in a DRS alongside plastic bottles, and if aluminium packaging including aerosols, foil trays and food tins are among the materials specified for collection under proposals to ‘standardise’ council recycling services.

Foil trays and aerosols should be considered as ‘core materials’ for collections by councils, a report has suggested

Defra is currently consulting on options for reforms to the waste system which includes the potential introduction of a DRS, as well as a standard of ‘core’ materials that councils should collect from householders (see letsrecycle.com story).

The proposed ‘minimum standard’ of core materials for councils set out in the consultation includes aluminium tins and cans but does not mention foil trays or aerosols. The options being considered for a DRS include an ‘all-in’ scheme, covering drinks containers of all sizes.


According to the report, in 2017 the UK recycled 51% of aluminium packaging, including 72% of aluminium drink cans. Green Alliance says: “while this latter figure is considered a success, it still means that the UK is wasting more than £50 million worth of used aluminium packaging each year – including £30 million worth of drink cans alone”.

If included in a deposit system, most drink cans would be diverted to a DRS, the report suggests, while aluminium food tins make up less than 2% of aluminium packaging, meaning that only a small amount of aluminium packaging would be likely to be captured at the kerbside.

Therefore, the proposed core list should be amended to include aerosols, trays and foil, the Green Alliance report has argued.

“Most local authorities already collect these packaging types, either through kerbside collection or recycling banks, showing a clear case for these other items to be included as standard in harmonised collections,” it claims.

The proportion of aluminium packaging recovered for recycling now (left column) vs how it could be recovered under a reformed system according to the Green Alliance report

Green Alliance says that its proposed changes will result in just 7% of aluminium packaging recycling rates being met through material harvested from Incinerator Bottom Ash (IBA) compared to 26% at present.

The report concludes: “The biggest wins will come simply from motivating people to bring back recyclable beverage containers through a well-designed deposit return system and by ensuring more consistent kerbside collections of remaining aluminium packaging and other items. Better sorting, followed by recovery from incinerator bottom ash as a final step, could bring the recycling rate to nearly 100%.”

Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance, said: “The opportunity to review the whole recycling system does not come around often. We have a chance now to design a system that works for business, consumers and the environment. Getting it right for all materials – and not just plastic – will mean we can stop losing millions of pounds worth of materials to landfill or incineration.”


The findings of the report have been welcomed by the executive director of the aluminium recycling body Alupro, Rick Hindley, who compared the Green Alliance proposals to his organisation’s own report which suggested that an 85% recycling rate for aluminium cans will be achieved by 2020 (see letsrecycle.com story).

“They have taken a strong position on the DRS which we find interesting. We understand it can deliver a high recycling rate for aluminium drinks cans.”

Rick Hindley

Speaking to letsrecycle.com, he said: “We welcome this report from the Green Alliance, which pretty much supports the conclusions from our Resources Futures report which said you could hit a near 100% recycling rate for aluminium packaging.”

While Alupro has previously been sceptical of the impact of a DRS on the overall recycling rate for aluminium, Mr Hindley added that the organisation is continuing to weigh up the options as it prepares its response to Defra’s consultations, and that he was ‘interested’ by the Green Alliance comments on the measure.

“They have taken a strong position on the DRS which we find interesting. We understand it can deliver a high recycling rate for aluminium drinks cans.”

“At this point we are assessing which is the best route, and we have not reached a final conclusion.”

Related Links
Report – Closing the loop Four steps towards 100% aluminium packaging recycling


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