Don’t get foiled by material concerns

Used packaging such as foil and aerosols are viewed as a reprocessing challenge, but research suggests otherwise and there is scope to improve recovery rates.

According to Defra, 145,000 tonnes of aluminium packaging – primarily drinks cans, aluminium foil and aerosols – was placed on the UK market in 2008. With the help of its stakeholders, Alupro has taken a sustained
approach to the promotion of aluminium recycling, and as a result, a 42% recycling figure was reported for 2009.

Much of this success has been achieved through working with local authority partners, but as part of its ongoing drive to raise the stakes further, Alupro has extended its focus to address the issues facing materials handlers and MRF operators. The majority of MRFs already have successful systems in place for targeting waste aluminium drinks cans; as a high value material it makes economic sense, and the necessary infrastructure works well with other sorting streams.

MRF operators have voiced concerns around the lighter aluminium materials
such as foil, and also aerosols, which can be made from aluminium or steel. Combined, these waste streams generate 46,000 tonnes annually. Research undertaken as part of Alupro’s Aerofoil programme established that consumers want to recycle more things from home, and work by WRAP has shown that expanding a kerbside programme to include foil trays and aerosols can be straightforward and cost-effective.

Both can be collected alongside other metal containers, and dry recyclables. To assist further, Alupro has developed new communications materials to help councils promote these new waste streams to householders; so working with materials handlers to address perceived challenges was a natural next step. Working with Alupro, WRAP aims to compile data on the flow of aluminium foil through a MRF, to assess actual and potential levels of input, coupled with the costs of recovering foil through a variety of capacity MRFs. Also, WRAP plans to examine contamination levels, specifically in the mixed paper stream.

Further work is required, but initial results suggest that contamination of mixed paper streams falls significantly below the reprocessor-specified threshold of 2%. On average, where local authorities target aluminium foil trays in collection systems, capture rates are higher than those which do not, but plenty of scope remains for increasing capture levels. The data was sampled from Defra’s national waste composition study, and concluded that an authority that targets foil in its collection system would find double the rate of aluminium foil containers in its dry recycling collection, compared with those which do not target.

The greatest issues surrounding the inclusion of aerosols in MRF inputs is a perceived concern relating to health and safety. Work by the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association (BAMA) has demonstrated that when mixed with other food and drinks containers, they are sufficiently diluted to not to constitute a major risk. BAMA is a partner in the Aerofoil programme and has worked on guidelines for the handling of aerosols in a MRF and is able to provide advice to materials handlers and local authorities.

Clear communications to householders on how to present aerosols for recycling is key to overcoming this issue, and the campaign materials provide this in information, in advertisements, editorial and photographic form.

Alupro will continue to work with councils and MRF operators to drive up participation and recovery, but the backdrop of static targets for packaging recycling adds extra challenges. A more joined up approach is needed, together with common objectives for the whole sector. Aluminium delivers on carbon reduction and economic forecasts so it makes sense to make space for this high value metal.

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