Launched today (11 March) Closing the loop: four steps towards 100% aluminium packaging recyclingsays that despite being the most valuable recyclable material householders commonly throw away, nearly half of aluminium packaging still isn’t being recycled.
As Michael Gove overhauls England’s recycling system, the public focus has mainly been on plastic, but the Green Alliance report claims that reforms could also make sure nearly all waste aluminium packaging is recovered.
Libby Peake, Green Alliance – “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”
If the government improves its reforms, it could not only prevent plastic pollution, but reduce the amount of aluminium wasted from 49% to just 3%, the report states.
In 2017, the UK recycled 51% of aluminium packaging, including 72% of aluminium drink cans. 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.
The research found that, to maintain quality, and therefore value, aluminium must be extracted from the waste management process as early as possible. It becomes increasingly more expensive and energy intensive to generate high quality material the more it becomes mixed with other materials.
Aluminium can be endlessly recycled with very little loss of quality. Aluminium mining and primary production is an expensive, energy intensive and waste generating process. Using recycled aluminium minimises these impacts, and we should be choosing this route to be a greener UK.
According to the study, the two most important actions the government should take are:
- Introduce an ‘all-in’ deposit return scheme (DRS)
DRSs in Europe have shown it is possible to recycle nearly all drink containers on the market, providing a clean stream of high value material to feed back into the manufacturing process. Principles for a UK system that achieves similar levels of recycling include ensuring containers of all sizes and composition are collected. This reduces the amount of aluminium lost to landfill and prevents consumer confusion.
- Improve kerbside collections
Once drink cans are collected via a DRS, the remaining third of aluminium packaging – eg aerosols, foil and food tins – should be separately collected at the kerbside. The government should standardise the current haphazard system and make sure these valuable sources of aluminium are collected from all homes across the country and recycled.
Samantha Harding, litter programme director at CPRE, said: “As the crazy days of burying or burning our finite resources come to an end, we can finally design proper collection systems that deliver high quantities of high quality resources. That’s why the only logical approach to a UK-wide deposit system is to include every bottle, can and carton.
“An ‘all-in’ system, universal in what it accepts, will be the most economically viable, the simplest for consumers to use, help create new jobs in a thriving recycling sector, and relieve struggling local councils of the huge financial burden of waste management by making those who produce these vast amounts of packaging rightfully liable for the costs of dealing with it.”
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.”