Having a roadmap is good, having good partners is more important….

Novelis along with our industry and value chain partners have recently launched an ambitious Recycling Roadmap for the Aluminium Beverage Can – Towards 100% Real Recycling by 2030. When I look back it is quite startling to think that a 100% fully circular packaging format could be attainable….in my lifetime! It just shows the progress that has been made, not just in aluminium but also in many material cycles. Beyond the low hanging fruit, in aluminium, we’re reaching well into the upper branches and it seems we only have four rungs of the ladder left to climb. Albeit that they are steps on the journey where we have stumbled before.

Fundamental to the final push is the need to inform and engage consumers effectively be that clear and unequivocal messaging on packaging product recyclability, awareness-raising campaigns or information about the local collection systems in place. Next, we of course need well-maintained and well-managed collection systems. These can be cost-efficient Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and Deposit Return (DRS) systems and in the near future the potential application of the latest digital technology to enhance DRS or modernize EPR. On the third step, we absolutely need efficient sorting systems and infrastructure backed up by the most advanced sorting technologies, it is a prerequisite for moving towards 100% recycling by 2030 that every can collected should survive the sorting process usually with high performing eddy current separators, to make it to the reprocessing plant. The final step on the ladder is very much a fallback position that recognizes that just maybe not all aluminium cans will be captured for sorting, in which case any aluminium cans that end up in mixed residual waste and are subsequently treated in waste-to-energy plants, should be further treated to recover the aluminium from the incineration bottom ash. Until we can avoid the possibility that recyclables still end-up in waste-to-energy plants, we should consider the recovery of aluminium from incinerator bottom ash as a medium-term option.

But as commented earlier, these are well worn steps, so what will make us succeed this time around? Well, having a roadmap is a good start but, having good partners will be more important. The opportunity for win-win collaborations still exist where aluminium is concerned as both financial and carbon ‘value’ can still be delivered by partnering to improve communication, collection and separation of aluminium beverage cans – even as we reach the upper limits. Our roadmap is an open call for such approaches.

Specifically within the United Kingdom and the various policy consultations under discussion, the opportunity is ripe to develop policies in harmony with each other and harness the full effect of an aligned value chain. Furthermore, as a ‘United’ Kingdom – now is surely the time to collaborate and bring some synchronicity to what happens next. Our necessarily restricted lifestyles over the last year, have in part been even more confused due to the disparity in approaches in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England. Roadmaps it seems are tricky things, and ignoring the fact that in the current age – a roadmap is a largely redundant item; their use is to help everyone proceed in the same direction, if not at the same pace. So as the aluminium can industry moves to harmonize its approach to reaching 100% recycling, let’s hope that the UK governments can agree to see recycling as a ‘common good’ and treat it as such – in a uniform way.

Andy Doran, Senior Manager, Sustainability and Recycling Development, Novelis – LARAC Partner