Geoff Courtney delivers his final installment of this three-part feature that busts the myths surrounding metals recycling. He asks if the public actually care about recycling…
CIWM Journal Online Exclusive
Busting The Myth – Closed Loop Recycling Is “Real” Recycling
If separating metals is straight forward, what happens next and which recycling method is the best? Aluminium and steel are recycled separately in what’s referred to as a closed material loop – just one type of material is processed – but what about the products that are made from this metal?
Closed loop recycling is the most commonly known form of recycling and, therefore, sometimes considered to be the only real recycling option. This is simply not true. But what do closed and open loop recycling really mean and what is the difference?
“Closed loop recycling has becoming a very popular choice amongst manufacturers and consumers as there is a ‘feel good’ factor in knowing something is made from ‘100% recycled material’”
Closed loop recycling is the remanufacturing of a product back into the same product; for example, an aluminium can could be turned back into another aluminium can, keeping the product loop closed. Closed loop recycling has becoming a very popular choice amongst manufacturers and consumers as there is a ‘feel good’ factor in knowing something is made from ‘100% recycled material’.
Open loop recycling is the process where material from one or more products is recycled and made into another product; for example, a steel can could become part of a new bridge or a car next time around.
Both open and closed recycling mean that metal can get used over and over again. What is important here is the percentage of the overall material recycled in the UK, not the percentage of recycled material in a particular product.
Busting The Myth – Recycling Does Not Benefit The Environment
So this article has explained what happens to drinks cans when recycled, where they go, how they are separated and that one recycling process is not better than the other. The question is – does it really matter? The answer is, of course it does.
The good news is that with aluminium, for example, 75 percent of the metal ever used is still in productive use today. In fact, the best thing about metals is that, since they are 100 percent recyclable, they save more carbon every time they pass through the recycling loop.
“Not only does recycling metal save valuable resources, there are significant energy and CO2 emissions savings as a result, so it makes environmental sense to recycle”
Every tonne of aluminium recycled saves four tonnes of bauxite, nine tonnes of CO2 emissions, 95 percent of the energy needed to make aluminium from raw materials and 97 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions. Every tonne of steel packaging recycled saves 1.5 tonnes of iron ore, 40 percent of the water required in production, 75 percent of the energy needed to make steel from virgin material and reduces CO2 emissions by 80 percent, air emissions by 86% and water pollution by 76 percent.
To further highlight how recycling drink cans will benefit the environment: the energy saved by recycling four aluminium drink cans would run a washing machine for one hour or run an electric blanket for eight hours. The energy savings made by recycling steel packaging from the average UK household in 2010 were enough to boil a kettle over 130 times.
Not only does recycling metal save valuable resources, there are significant energy and CO2 emissions savings as a result, so it makes environmental sense to recycle.
Busting The Myth – The Lifecycle Of Metals Is Finite
It is easy to see why metals might be wrongly seen as being finite materials (those that are not infinitely recyclable), as lots of other materials are, however this simply is not the case.
Metal packaging has no end of life. As metals used in cans are basic in their makeup and, therefore, unique from other drink packaging formats, they are not lost in the recycling process. Subsequently, metal can be defined as a permanently available material. The permanent nature of metal means it has a unique material loop that is hugely energy, carbon and resource efficient if the metals are recycled and re-used.
Some other packaging materials can use non-renewable resources, meaning they exist in nature in a fixed amount, or are consumed at a faster rate than nature can create them. This means that these resources will eventually be used up. As a permanently recyclable resource, metal makes a good choice for packaging.
Next time you consume a canned drink, remember that its life doesn’t have to end once its empty. Because it’s made from permanently available material, it can be recycled infinitely with no loss of quality.
Busting The Myth – It’s Difficult For The Public To Recycle And They Don’t Care
So this is the point where nearly all the myths of metals recycling have been dispelled. It’s straight forward to recycle, it does make a difference and, in fact, as drinks cans are made from infinitely recyclable material they absolutely should be recycled. Now for the final myth, that the public do not care.
It’s fair to say that consumers do want to recycle, but they also want a better understanding of the recycling process and how their contribution can make a difference. In 2011, a report was commissioned by the Can Makers in which a team of students from across the UK was challenged to develop recommendations to increase recycling rates amongst young people whilst “on the go”. The findings showed that despite a willingness to recycle more, there is a knowledge barrier often expressed as some of the myths above. Therefore, helping to bust these myths and make recycling an easier process to understand is step one to increasing recycling rates amongst young people.
“The real truth is that the public does care about recycling, as both the GfK research and student report show. However, convenience is a key factor in encouraging more people to recycle the packaging they use”
In 2012, research was conducted by GfK to understand attitudes of consumers towards drinks packaging and recycling. The GfK results confirm that recycling is growing in importance to consumers. Attitudes towards recycling have improved overall. Fifty-one percent of respondents said that they try to recycle everything they can. Thirty-two percent of people stated they try to recycle most things. Asked about how to encourage recycling, 81 percent of people said “more bins in public places”, suggesting convenience is a key motivator, a similar result to that of the student report.
The real truth is that the public does care about recycling, as both the GfK research and student report show. However, convenience is a key factor in encouraging more people to recycle the packaging they use.
It’s fair to say there are a lot of myths around the recycling of drinks cans. Is it just too complicated? Does it really make a difference? Does recycling really have a positive impact on the environment? All recycling myths need to be busted. Removing these misconceptions has the potential to increase public participation in drinks can recycling and see the UK’s recycling rates continue to grow.