Defra is currently consulting on a wide range of measures for its Resources and Waste Strategy
New Green Alliance report argues embracing some of the more ambitious measures included in the government’s proposed Resource and Waste Strategy could save the UK £50m a year
The UK could nearly double aluminium recycling rates, which would cut emissions and save £50m of wasted resources each year, according to a new report from think tank Green Alliance.
Entitled Closing the loop: four steps towards 100 per cent aluminium packaging recycling, the study assesses the government’s recent Resources and Waste Strategy and accompanying consultations. It concludes that beefing up the package could drastically improve UK recycling rates for aluminium packaging, at the same time as boosting plastic packaging rates.
The latest data for 2017 shows that 51 per cent of aluminium packaging is currently recycled, rising to 72 per cent for drinks cans. The current recycling rate is generally regarded as a success, especially in comparison to less impressive rates for many types of plastic packaging.
However, Green Alliance calculates that the current performance still means more than £50m of aluminium is being wasted each year, despite the fact it is one of the easiest materials to repeatedly recycle.
The report calculates that improvements to the government’s proposed reforms could reduce the amount of aluminium wasted from 49 per cent to just three per cent.
Specifically, Green Alliance is calling for targeted measures to boost the quality of aluminium waste streams and reduce contamination, which leads to higher costs and lower quality materials for re-use.
It argued the government should beef up its plans for a deposit return scheme (DRS) for specific types of beverage packaging and introduce an ‘all-in’ scheme.
“DRSs in Europe have shown it is possible to recycle nearly all drink containers on the market, providing a clean stream of high value material to feed back into the manufacturing process,” the report states. “Principles for a UK system that achieves similar levels of recycling include ensuring containers of all sizes and composition are collected. This reduces the amount of aluminium lost to landfill and prevents consumer confusion.”
The report also calls for improved kerbside collections to standardise the current “haphazard system” and make sure valuable sources of aluminium, such as food cans and foil, are collected from all homes across the country.
“As the crazy days of burying or burning our finite resources come to an end, we can finally design proper collection systems that deliver high quantities of high quality resources,” said Samantha Harding, litter programme director at CPRE. “That’s why the only logical approach to a UK-wide deposit system is to include every bottle, can and carton.
“An ‘all-in’ system, universal in what it accepts, will be the most economically viable, the simplest for consumers to use, help create new jobs in a thriving recycling sector, and relieve struggling local councils of the huge financial burden of waste management by making those who produce these vast amounts of packaging rightfully liable for the costs of dealing with it.”
The government is considering an all-in approach alongside proposals for a more targeted DRS – a move which has prompted accusations some businesses are privately lobbying for a slimmed down scheme that they argue will prove less costly and easier to administer.
“The opportunity to review the whole recycling system does not come around often,” said Libby Peake, senior policy adviser on resources at Green Alliance. “We have a chance now to design a system that works for business, consumers and the environment. Getting it right for all materials – and not just plastic – will mean we can stop losing millions of pounds worth of materials to landfill or incineration.”
Defra is currently consulting on a wide range of policy proposals under its Resources and Waste Strategy and has repeatedly stressed that it is committed to drastically improving UK recycling rates and catalysing the development of a more circular economy.