Working together to hit recycling targets

It often feels that industry and local authorities could be more in tune when it comes to improving UK recycling rates for packaging. John May, manager, Corus Steel Packaging Recycling (CSPR) writes on how this can happen.

Packaging is an important part of the UK waste stream and represents some 46% by volume of domestic waste. In simple terms, packaging takes up nearly half of the space in the average dustbin. The UK government’s new recovery and recycling targets of 60% recycling of UK packaging waste by 2008 will necessitate the collection of an additional one million tonnes of packaging annually – almost all of it from the domestic waste stream.

So, how do we overcome this potential mismatch between objectives? The key will be to work together as closely as possible. With nearly 500 local authorities across the UK, ensuring we develop the most effective channels of communication between companies which do the recycling, like Corus, and local authorities, which collect recyclable materials from households, is of critical importance.

Already we’ve made an excellent start as far as steel packaging is concerned, with recycling rates up 35% in the past four years to 44% – so steel is doing well, but we need to do more (see graph).

As a result of the success of steel recycling to date, steel has been given a higher target (54%) than aluminium (32%) to enable the overall 2008 recycling target for metal (steel and aluminium combined) of 50% to be achieved.

Local authorities have a lot to gain from taking advantage of steel’s recycling performance. And by doing so they will give the UK as a whole the prospect of reaching the overall metals target.

There is 500,000 tonnes of recyclable steel packaging in the domestic waste stream alone. In this country we use around 13 billion steel cans each year, with two out of every three cans on the supermarket shelf made of steel. In fact, every UK home uses an average of 600 steel cans per year.

While food, pet food and drinks cans account for 60% of domestic steel packaging, around 40% consists of containers which are equally recyclable, although not as frequently considered, such as aerosols, DIY products, promotional packaging and lids/caps.

Although recent years have seen a steady growth in steel recycling rates – with 44% of all steel packaging, including 2.5 billion steel cans, recycled every year – the UK is still sending over 10 billion recyclable steel cans, equivalent to around 350,000 tonnes of steel, to landfill every year.

Recycling more steel packaging will therefore significantly help local authorities meet both their landfill and household waste targets.

Despite some misconceptions, steel is very easy to recycle, and there is an abundance of it. It is easy to separate steel magnetically from other collected packaging and steel reprocessing is reasonably tolerant of contaminants, because the refining process is designed to remove them. Organisations such as Corus also offer a secure end market for the material.

Steel packaging performance is already playing an important role in the ever increasing shift towards multi-material kerbside collection and makes a major contribution to the success of existing schemes. However, the further establishment of multi-material household collection schemes is a priority to continue raising UK steel recycling rates, and the rates of other packaging materials.

Kerbside schemes can deliver good quality steel that fetches a good price – at up to £60 per tonne £30million is available in the waste stream. And by collecting materials together, a better overall recovery rate from the house is achieved, enhancing recycling rates from other materials.

Local authorities can also use CanRoute, a regional network of steel can collection centres set up by CSPR to produce the bales of steel cans required by the steel industry. This means that local authorities do not need to bale collected steel.

Since 1999, CanRoute centres have diverted over 600 million cans from landfill into our steel plants for recycling. This equates to over 36,000 tonnes of steel being diverted from landfill.

Another advantage for local authorities is that funds raised by UK reprocessors through the sale of Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs) are available to local authorities for recycling infrastructure investment.

Packaging chain companies, such as can makers and can fillers, are obliged to purchase PRNs as evidence that their legal responsibility to recover and recycle has been fulfilled. UK reprocessors who can recycle, such as Corus, can sell PRNs either to an obligated company or to a compliance scheme acting on that company’s behalf.

Funds raised are used to help local authorities develop and increase their recycling capabilities either through grants or new equipment.

PRN funds have helped over 370 regional steel packaging schemes in the UK since 1998. By investing in the steel can collection infrastructure, thousands of tonnes of steel packaging have been diverted from landfill and have instead been recycled at one of our accredited steel making plants.

In addition to PRN funds, organisations such as ours can provide free technical support to local authorities, helping them get better value for their steel cans. We also provide a stable, guaranteed price for the steel, using PRN funds to smooth market price fluctuations.

So, by working even more closely together with reprocessing companies, local authorities can make a major contribution towards their household waste and landfill targets, enabling recyclers to make significant improvements to their packaging recycling rates.

These targets are very much inter-related and it is important that none of them should be viewed in isolation.

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