Three essential elements to accelerating UK recycling rates


Aluminium recycling

Tom Giddings, executive director of Alupro, explores the latest quarterly Packaging Recovery Notes (PRN) data and discusses the pivotal role that communication, engagement and education continue to play in increasing collection volumes and influencing recycling rates.

According to recent data published on the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD) by the Environment Agency (EA), aluminium packaging recycling volumes in the final quarter of 2023 demonstrated an impressive uplift compared to volumes reported twelve months previously.

Between October and December, 37,156 tonnes of aluminium packaging was collected for recycling – an 11% increase year-on-year. Of this volume, 26,396 tonnes were recycled through kerbside, bring and on-the-go systems, while 10,526 tonnes were recovered from incinerator bottom ash (IBA).

But why are aluminium packaging recycling rates continuing to soar?

As a result, it’s fair to say that we’re once again expecting to surpass annual recycling targets for aluminium packaging, once the validated PRN data for 2023 has been published. In fact, we shouldn’t be too far away from reporting record annual volumes.

This would be an amazing achievement, but it’s far from a short-term trend. Indeed, over the past decade, aluminium packaging recycling rates have shot up – from 46% in 2013, to upwards of 70% in 2023. At the same time, the market has continued to grow, with aluminium fast becoming the material of choice for a wide range of packaging applications.

But why are aluminium packaging recycling rates continuing to soar? What’s the key reason behind increasing volumes and a growing market? Is it education? Is it consumer engagement? Is it clarity of communication? Personally, I think it’s a delicate balance between these three essential elements.

Why are aluminium packaging recycling rates soaring?

Aluminium packaging

First of all, it’s important to mention how simple it is to recycle aluminium packaging. Simply rinse or wipe the item clean and place it in the correct bin or container for collection at the kerbside. Within a few weeks, your used packaging will be transformed into a completely new product – true circular economy thinking.

However, it would be hugely unfair to suggest that simplicity is the only reason behind rising recycling rates. In recent years, we’ve seen a monumental shift in positive consumer behaviour when it comes to recycling best practice; in particular, when it comes to aluminium packaging materials.

Tom Giddings
Tom Giddings, executive director of Alupro.

With consumers more conscious than ever about the environmental impact of their purchase choices, we’re seeing an ever-increasing demand for products boasting environmentally-friendly packaging, while householders are taking great care to ensure that their waste is properly separated for recycling – whether inside or outside the home.

This became highly apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, when beverage can consumption began to rise faster than predictions suggested and aluminium packaging recycling rates subsequently boomed.

While some industry critics initially suggested that the high rates were just a short-term trend, it’s reassuring to see that impressive volumes and positive consumer recycling behaviours have continued in the years since. Now that good recycling behaviour has become widely engrained in household routines, momentum is spiralling – a massive step forward for the supply chain.

Yet while positively changing behaviours and consumer proactivity are good indicators of continued momentum, we must not rest on our laurels when it comes to upward-trending collection volumes. In 2024, I’d like to see even greater progress. After all, at Alupro, we’re hugely ambitious about aluminium’s role within a circular packaging economy and we’re committed to leading from the front.

How is Alupro accelerating progress?


We’re proud to represent the UK’s aluminium packaging industry, working to fulfil its obligation to meet, and exceed, recycling targets. We do this by collaborating with local authorities, the waste management industry and the wider metal packaging sector to develop and stimulate the UK’s collection infrastructure. We also manage and run consumer information and education campaigns to encourage participation in recycling schemes.

As we move ever closer towards a bright new future for the recycling industry, education, engagement and communication are more important than ever. We’re proud to be continuing with our hugely successful aluminium packaging recycling programmes (MetalMatters and Every Can Counts) and remain committed to flying the flag – both in terms of awareness and education.

Our initiatives delivered widespread benefit in 2023 and proved instrumental in increasing consumer engagement across the UK. Results from our programmes highlighted the real value of communication, as well as changing consumer behaviours when it comes to best practice recycling.

In 2024, we’re continuing to lead by example. From implementing promotional campaigns to support local authority kerbside foil recycling service roll-outs to accelerating the progress of our Aerosol Recycling Initiative (a steering group with the simple ambition of increasing aerosol recycling in the UK) and even revisiting creative campaigns aimed at children, such as Bin-Fluencers and Masters of Infinity.

Our initiatives delivered widespread benefit in 2023 and proved instrumental in increasing consumer engagement across the UK.

After all, education needs to be engaging, fun, unique and interesting to make a real difference. It needs to span multiple geographies and demographics. Our creative campaigns, alongside the continuous work of our MetalMatters and Every Can Counts programmes, intend to keep aluminium packaging recycling front-of-mind.

For us, increasing national recycling rates suggest that the supply chain’s collaborative approach to education, action and change is paying off. What’s more, it gives us confidence that positive consumer behaviours are here to stay – a long-term transformation, not simply a short-term data trend.

But while progress is continuing to build, our mission remains clear – to achieve a 100% recycling rate for aluminium packaging in the UK. We’re making positive progress, but there is still a vast amount of ground left to cover.

Greater education, better awareness and more engagement are all key parts of the jigsaw. As such, we’re continuing to develop our team, investing in our education programmes and growing our membership base to expand our influence, drive positive behaviours and continue to inspire increasing aluminium packaging recycling rates.

Where do we go from here? Can we ever reach a 100% recycling rate?

Aluminium recycling

As we wait with bated breath for the validated annual PRN data, it’s the perfect chance to step back and appreciate that impressive progress is being made in numerous areas. More importantly still, rising volumes and record rates suggest that positive consumer recycling behaviours are here to stay – resulting in ever-increasing volumes of aluminium packaging collected through kerbside, bring and on-the-go systems.

We’re pleased to be moving ever closer towards a 100% recycling rate for aluminium packaging and, while fresh regulation is essential to make the next major dent, communication, education and engagement remain essential elements of that strategy.

At Alupro, we’re developing, investing and growing to support a continued increase in recycling rates – not just for today, but for the future.

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