Study shows recycling more metal brings mass benefits

Including more metal cans in kerbside recycling collection schemes can offer significant environmental and financial benefits to local authorities, a study has shown.

Funded by the DTI, the study examined the economic impacts of including both steel and aluminium packaging in multi-material kerbside collections of household recyclables, to offer local authorities guidance on recycling materials selection.

Using her unique Kerbside Analysis Tool (KAT), study author Dr Julia Hummel of Eco Alternatives took in a range of operation techniques, based on actual practice for typical local authorities operating on a variety of costs per tonne and per household.

Dr Hummel told edie her results clearly showed that recycling more metal packaging contributed towards the achievement of best value performance indicators, whether included in kerbside sorted, co-mingled or two-stream collection services.

“As we have not tested every single local authority in the UK, we can’t categorically say that including more metal materials in recycling services will immediately provide financial benefits,” she explained.

“However, even if they do not see financial rewards straight away, no additional costs would be incurred, so councils have nothing to lose and a lot to gain by upping the amount of metal collected.”

Even at low levels of recovery, the study shows that collecting metals can reduce the overall refuse and recycling collection and disposal costs. At high levels of recovery, the cost benefit on the overall system was shown to be considerable.

Manager of Corus Steel Packaging, John May, said he hoped to see local authorities establish and expand collection systems to include more steel and aluminium, following Dr Hummel’s positive results.

He also pointed out that there were ready markets for recycled metals, and a huge demand for reused steel and aluminium.

“At a time when the wisdom of purely weight-based targets is being questioned, the conclusions of this study have added significance,” he told edie. “Furthermore, the focus on the removal of biodegradable waste from landfill fails to encourage local authorities to take this advantageous step. Not only will steel and aluminium add to the weight collected, they will also generally assist the economies.”

Under current government targets, the UK needs to recycle 50% of its metal packaging by 2008, amounting to the diversion of around 60,000 tonnes more from the waste stream.

By Jane Kettle

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