…is a phrase purported to be a Chinese Curse. Which now seems entirely appropriate given the looming ‘China Crisis’ created by the import restrictions of secondary materials. This has been widely reported as a restriction on ‘waste’ imports, when of course exporting/importing waste is actually illegal within the Trans Frontier Waste Shipments. Which is perhaps a hint at the real problem?
That aside, creating long-term, high quality and commercially viable routes for collected materials has become more pressing than ever. The Resource Association have been leading the call for a longer-term ‘rebooting’ of UK recycling policy needed to create an approach that develops a ‘circular resource economy’ more focused on delivering high quality materials to UK and EU manufacturers with legal and compliant export as a back-up element for some resources. To do this, action is needed at all parts of the value chain – from collection, handling, reprocessing, production and design, retailing and consumer behaviour. Something we’ve not seen since the formative days of the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) back in 2000.
Such ‘value chain’ action is not always as easy as it sounds as it needs some aligned thinking and bold actions. Novelis did not become the world’s largest recycler of aluminium drink cans overnight, and to get there has involved a team effort. First on the team sheet are the collectors such as local authorities and their contractors who can set much of the agenda for the value chain by achieving high-quality collection and separation of used aluminium cans (UBC). They also play a crucial role in helping shape consumer behaviour and participation. Next up comes the reprocessor aligning with his customer to create a high quality product for them to use. Novelis has invested countless millions over the years to create capability and capacity for closed loop aluminium systems in UBC and more recently the automotive sector. In the UK much of that UBC capacity has been funded by the UK Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system.
Finally, our can-making customers are masters at taking our expertly engineered aluminium sheet and making, shaping and filling cans at speeds of up to 2,000 cans per minute. With parts of the finished can only being 100 microns thick, that’s thinner than a human hair. Not bad from ‘scrap aluminium’. And once consumed that ‘circular resource economy’ starts all over again. However, that’s not the full story. To make that circle grow and accelerate the rate of increase in aluminium can (and other aluminium packaging) recycling rates, those value chain partners, the reprocessors, the can-makers and even some branded drinks manufacturers have aligned to support and fund specific campaigns. Campaigns that I hope you may have heard of like Metalmatters, Every Can Counts and the Alu D&T Awards. Campaigns aimed at raising awareness, provoking some thought and ultimately changing behaviour. Some of which is also paid for with PRN funds
So, in much the same way as ‘one man’s waste can be another man’s resource’, for me one man’s curse can be another man’s blessing. And we could indeed be blessed to live in these interesting times – times when necessity could move us forward to more circular solutions at even greater pace. Of course if you want to see what we do to make cans-to-cans, just get in touch. The great thing about having a nice story to tell is that you’re always glad to share it.