In 2021, the UK’s aluminium packaging recycling rate reached its highest level on record (66%). Statistics released by the Environment Agency revealed that more than 156,000 tonnes of aluminium packaging were collected for recycling (a 3% rise year-on-year), including 82% of beverage cans.
Despite a growing domestic market, aluminium packaging collected through kerbside, bring and on-the-go systems increased by 5% (112,210), while tonnage recovered from incinerator bottom ash grew by 2% (41,941). More than 88% of this total volume was recycled within the UK and EU, meaning just 12% was exported for reprocessing and consumption further afield.
While it’s pleasing to report yet another record-breaking year for aluminium packaging recycling, the data tells us so much more than just identifying an upward national trend. Indeed, while 2020 volumes were high due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting national lockdowns and mandatory working from home guidance, even greater collection figures in 2021 shows that positive behaviours have remained – a significant achievement for the aluminium packaging supply chain and one that will help to drive us forward towards a more circular future.
At Alupro, 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 – MetalMatters and Every Can Counts.
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 (when it comes to aluminium packaging recycling) 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. At 66%, we’re making 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.
Growing the team, expanding our influence
Earlier this year, we announced the appointment of Martin Hyde as sustainability and public affairs manager. Joining Alupro from producer compliance scheme Comply Direct Ltd, Martin has significant experience in sustainability, legislation and environmental policy.
Having delivered consultancy on packaging, waste electricals, recycling, batteries, carbon, ESG and net-zero to a diverse member portfolio, Martin is an expert in the circular economy and has an intricate understanding of policy changes such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) and the UK Plastic Tax.
Further bolstering our technical prowess and government engagement capability, Martin’s appointment has already made an immediate and positive impact. What’s more, it has enabled me to transition from my previous role of interim general manager (and acting sustainability and public affairs manager) to my new position of executive director.
Here, my priority will be to lead the Alupro team and act as the independent voice of the industry on issues of government policy and legislative development. What’s more, a key focus of the role will be to share our collective circular economy expertise and work to further stimulate the UK’s collection infrastructure, as well as inspiring collaboration across value chains and sectors to tackle recycling challenges head-on.
When it comes to supporting our education campaigns, we recently appointed Phoebe Kelly to the team as programme assistant. Joining the business following the completion of her Masters degree at the University of Birmingham, Phoebe brings experience in content creation, marketing and events management.
From content creation and social media management to stakeholder engagement and event support, Phoebe will be involved in a number of different initiatives to drive aluminium recycling rates across the UK and educate householders about the importance of best practice waste management. Her experience in events will be particularly beneficial for Every Can Counts, especially coming up to festival season and the summer holidays – some of our busiest periods.
New members, new sectors
We’re delighted that Scanmetals has joined our growing membership base. Headquartered in the UK, but with operations across Scandinavia and Germany, the company specialises in recovering non-ferrous metals from incinerator bottom ash generated by Energy-from-Waste (EfW) facilities.
After residual waste has been recovered to generate electricity and heat, the Scanmetals process sees residual incinerator bottom ash (IBA) sorted via state-of-the-art mechanical and sensor-based technology to remove dust and aggregate. Individual fractions of valuable metals are removed and sold to smelters, refineries, ingot makers and foundries across the globe.
With nearly 42,000 tonnes of aluminium recovered from incinerator bottom ash in 2021, representing IBA recovery comprises nearly 29% of all recycled aluminium packaging. Working with Scanmetals to communicate the importance of IBA in the waste management landscape of the future will therefore be hugely important.
Embracing creativity across our programmes
As we move ever-closer towards a 100% recycling rate for aluminium packaging, we appreciate that capturing and collecting the harder to reach fractions will become ever-more important. Aerosols containers are a perfect example. Although 95% of UK councils offer a kerbside aerosol recycling collection, it is estimated that only 46% of aerosols are correctly separated for recycling by consumers. Indeed, aerosols are widely considered one of the UK’s most confusing consumer packaging types, with incorrect disposal commonplace in result.
To tackle the issue, we recently launched a digital engagement campaign to encourage consumers to recycle their empty aerosol cans. ‘The lonely aerosol’ saw social media users targeted with a series of creative digital animations, sharing best practice recycling advice, to represent the diversity of aerosol containers found within the home.
But the onus shouldn’t be placed on homeowners alone. Indeed, to inspire a national uplift in aerosol recycling rates, we need government support to help improve consumer education when it comes to best practice recycling. Furthermore, substantial long-term investment into collection infrastructure is essential to ensure used aerosol cans become an intrinsic part of the circular economy.
With this in mind, we’ve been working behind the scenes on a project to calculate the true baseline of aerosol recycling in the UK. After all, with recycling system investment aligned to reported recycling rates, ensuring the accuracy of this measurement is hugely important.
Away from aerosols, other creative campaigns have included co-creating a series of podcasts for KS2 and KS3 pupils in collaboration with FunKids; as well as launching Bin-Fluencers – a programme inspiring schoolchildren to create online videos to raise awareness of aluminium packaging recycling.
Education needs to be engaging, fun, different and interesting to make a real difference. It needs to span multiple geographies and multiple demographics. Our creative campaigns, alongside the continuous work of our MetalMatters and Every Can Counts programmes, intends to keep aluminium packaging recycling front-of-mind.
Accelerating towards a circular future
As we move ever-closer towards the end of the year, we hope to see record aluminium packaging recycling rates continuing, reflecting the positive trends of 2021. More importantly still, we hope to see more material than ever collected through kerbside, bring and on-the-go systems to maximise the potential for closed-loop recycling.
With higher, more ambitious national targets, we’re pleased to be moving ever-closer towards a 100% recycling rate for aluminium packaging. As we do so, communication will prove ever-more pivotal in maintaining consumer engagement and maximising positive recycling behaviours.
At Alupro, we’re developing, investing and growing to support a continued increase in recycling rates – not just for today, but for the future.