Steel can recycling hits all time high in UK

Corus, the major steel producer, has just published its annual report showing how it invested PRN income to promote steel packaging recycling in the UK. John May, Manager, Corus Steel Packaging Recycling, explains why 2003 was a year of significant progress for steel can recycling.

UK steel can recycling hit an all time high last year, as an additional 14,000 tonnes of steel packaging was recycled, taking the annual total to 304,000 tonnes. As a result, the overall recycling rate for steel packaging increased from 42% in 2002 to 44.5%.

During this period, Corus assisted 44 local authorities with their recycling activities in the form of the provision of new recycling equipment and communication support. This investment has directly resulted in the collection of steel cans from an additional 1.5 million households.

Corus provides this investment as a result of income derived from the sale of Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs). Packaging chain companies are obliged to hold PRNs as evidence that their legal responsibility to recover and recycle quantified tonnages of packaging has been fulfilled. PRNs are sold by accredited recycling operators like Corus either to an obligated company or to a Compliance Scheme acting on their behalf. Our annual PRN report shows how the funding is spent as the extent to which PRN funds are used to assist recycling is not always fully appreciated.

Steel recycling statistics

Although these steel packaging recycling figures are very encouraging, it is important to put them in context. In the UK, 700,000 tonnes of steel per annum is used for packaging, of which 500,000 tonnes is steel packaging used in the home.
While food, pet food and drinks cans account for 60% of domestic steel packaging, around 40% consists of containers which are equally recyclable, such as aerosols, DIY products, promotional packaging and lids/caps. Around 12 billion steel cans are used annually in the UK, with on average, 600 used in every UK home each year.
Of these, the UK is still sending nine billion steel cans, equivalent to around 350,000 tonnes, and even greater tonnages of other recyclable materials, to landfill every year.

One outcome of the relative success of steel recycling to date is that the UK has been asked by the Government to achieve an annual recycling rate of 54% of packaging steel by the year 2008, rather than the 50% which is the “metals” recycling rate. So there is still a lot more to do.

Recycling infrastructure

Developing the UK’s recycling infrastructure is at the forefront of the Corus strategy as it is the key to increasing the collection and recovery of steel cans from the domestic waste stream. Kerbside collection will be a fundamental part of this.

Indeed, the increase in steel can recycling in 2003 can be attributed in part to the rising number of local authorities identifying the benefits from operating multi-material kerbside collection schemes and taking advantage of the recycling performance of steel.

Local authorities can also use CanRoute, a regional network of steel can collection centres set up by Corus to produce the bales of steel cans required by the steel industry. Last year CanRoute system recovered 21,122 tonnes of steel through the collection of 500 million steel cans – a 61% increase on 2002.

CanRoute is just one route for steel can recycling. Annually, thousands of tonnes of steel packaging are also recycled by magnetic extraction from energy from waste plants or from other waste treatment plants (eg transfer stations, mechanical biological treatment plants and pulverisation plants.)

Looking forward, Corus will continue to build on the partnerships it has developed with local authorities, waste management companies, community recycling groups and its packaging chain customers which have made the increases in steel can recycling possible.

Corus will also further develop its co-operation with Alcan, British Glass, Recoup and Paperchain to facilitate communications with local authorities, WRAP (Waste & Resources Programme) and other organisations. Corus is enthusiastic about this cooperation, which is focussed on increasing both the quantity and quality of materials collected at the kerbside.

A PDF of Corus’ report, Success in Recycling, can be downloaded from

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie