A breakfast briefing two weeks ago for members of the aluminium industry's All Party Parliamentary Group argued that moves to mandate a minimum level of recycled material to be included in certain products would be counter-productive for some applications such as drinks cans.
Rick Hindley, executive director of packaging industry organisation Alupro, told the Aluminium Federation meeting of parliamentarians from both Houses that the Bill recently introduced by Dr Alan Whitehead, MP for Southampton Test, to establish a Renewable Content Obligation was inappropriate for a globally traded commodity like aluminium, where end-of-life recycling rate was the better measure of environmental success.
He said it was understandable that the Bill sought to ensure that as much material as possible was retained in a UK loop of production, consumption, recovery and re-use, but explained that far more scrap metal was produced in the UK than could now be used for UK manufacture, so it makes sense to export clean metal for recycling abroad for all the different demand applications.
The European pool of scrap aluminium "will be used in the most optimal end product" said Mr. Hindley. "Sometimes this will be closed loop like the beverage cans recycled by Novelis at Warrington, but more often than not it will be recycled in an open loop in one of 133 recycling plants across Europe.
"By increasing the recycled content of one product we are simply moving metal around. It does not necessarily mean that we will be replacing primary aluminium. Increasing recycling rate does ! Whilst it might look attractive to focus on 'recycled content' it simply does not make good environmental sense to increase the recycled content of the beverage can or foil tray as long as the total recycling rate for these products does not improve."
Mr. Hindley told the meeting that a sustainability assessment of the drinks can recently carried out by independent experts for the Beverage Canmakers Europe (BCME), working with the European Aluminium Association (EAA), has concluded that the most effective way of reducing the carbon footprint of the can is to increase the levels of recycling.
"If we increase the recycling rate for just the drinks can by 20 per cent in the UK, from around 50 per cent to 70 per cent, it would reduce the carbon footprint of the 6.5 billion aluminium drinks cans sold in the UK by around 150,000 tonnes, the equivalent to taking around 25,000 cars off the road for one year" said Hindley.
The industry has long recognised the huge benefits that can be derived from maximising the end of life recycling rate, which is why more than £120m has already been invested in developing recycling infrastructure in the UK. The most recent initiative is the Every Can Counts programme, funded by the organisations representing the major drinks can manufacturers, BCME and UK Canmakers, together with WRAP and the aluminium and steel packaging producers and reprocessors, which aims to develop a model for collecting drinks cans from away from home locations like the workplace.