Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether to look to Westminster or Brussels for wise words and leadership on issues like the climate crisis. In recent months this issue has had to ‘play second fiddle’ to other crises both domestic and international. Much of what we do in business and leisure is entwined with mainland Europe, the Novelis business has an integrated low carbon rail-enabled system that moves semi-finished products (aluminium ingots) onto further value adding processes in mainland Europe before the final product such as aluminium sheets for beverage can makers or blanks for aluminium car body panels, are delivered to UK customers. It’s a pretty seamless operation. But regardless of the logistics of the operation the products being made by our customers are to a single standard whether for the UK or European marketplace.
Therefore, as the UK dives deep to deliver the finer details of the current EPR, DRS and Consistency agendas, it’s worth looking on to the continental horizon to see where product regulation is headed. The European Union has just set out the framework of the Eco-design for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR). This is set to be a far-reaching package of regulatory proposals that will shape how products are designed, manufactured and even marketed in the years to come. The ESPR is of course driven by carbon and circularity which brings in to play a whole host of issues and possible policy solutions that will impact resource management and recycling.
The shopping list of possible measures is quite extensive including product durability, reliability, reusability, upgradability and repairability, ease of maintenance and refurbishment, the presence of substances of concern, product energy use and energy efficiency, resource use and resource efficiency, recovery of materials, recycled content in products, ease of remanufacturing, recycling and recovery of materials or energy from products, all aiming to reduce products’ carbon and environmental footprints! As Novelis is the world’s largest aluminium recycler, we have chosen to focus on just a few, namely calling for the mainstreaming of ambitious recycled content targets legislation, optimising the collection and segregation of raw materials and prioritising closed-loop recycling.
Of course, we support recycling, but recycling targets alone are not enough. Recycled content targets can incentivize eco-design, promote the reuse of materials into products of similar value, reduce the material and carbon footprint of products and strengthen Europe’s autonomy and resilience by creating shorter and circular supply chains. As reprocessors we can only recycle what is collected and transported to our recycling plants – collection helps ensure that aluminium is recycled, sorting enables reprocessing into products of similarly high value and in aluminium’s case -multiple times. To maximise value retention, we are asking for the extension of high-quality closed loop recycling, in particular for permanent materials; materials like aluminium that do not lose properties or functionality during the recycling process. In fact, while you’re at it why not amend the waste hierarchy, to elevate permanent materials, materials that sustain multiple product-to-product (closed loop) cycles. After all, what’s more sustainable than permanent!