New green targets may hit UK aluminium recycling
LONDON - Britain is becoming a conscientious recycler of aluminium soft drinks and beer cans, but a new government strategy could shift the emphasis towards heavier waste materials.
For the first time, local government authorities will have household waste recycling targets that they must meet, under the new strategy issued this year by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
Previously, the authorities had no statutory targets, but now each has an individually set weight-based objective that must be doubled by 2003 and trebled by 2005.
Alex Griffin, operations director at the UK Aluminium Packaging and Recycling Organisation (ALUPRO) said some authorities may be tempted to sideline the collection of lightweight aluminium in favour of heavier materials to meet their targets.
\"Because targets are weight-based there is a danger they will just focus on the heavy (substances such as compost)...and materials that are efficient and lightweight might not be attended to,\" he said.
But DEFRA said it was highly unlikely that other forms of waste would be favoured above aluminium under the scheme.
\"There\'s a ready market for aluminium, and there isn\'t a market for other things,\" a department spokeswoman said.
\"Aluminium is the most valuable of all the recyclables, so I don\'t see why someone would suddenly not want to collect it.\"
The collection and recycling system in the United Kingdom relies largely on the initiative of industry groups like ALUPRO, as opposed to formal state-run home collection programmes seen in countries such as Germany or Spain.
EVERYONE CAN RECYCLE
Every year, the British buy around five billion aluminium cans, or 78,000 tonnes of aluminium, and only 42 percent are recycled, meaning that around 30 million pounds is lost from cans that are just thrown away, according to British Alcan Aluminium, the subsidiary of Canadian producer Alcan .
\"Everybody is a potential recycler so we try to target everyone. It\'s just a question of keeping them all at it,\" Diana Caldwell, communications director at Alcan\'s recycling plant in Warrington in northern England said.
In the UK, there are a number of points where cans can be dropped off for recycling, sometimes in exchange for cash.
Many of these are owned or run by Alcan, which owns the UK\'s only dedicated recycling plant for beverage cans in Warrington.
Cans from supermarket collection points, local authority-owned banks and kerb-side collection schemes, or even from Alcan\'s roving fleet of collection vehicles, are sent to regional aggregation centres, where they are baled together and sent up to Warrington for recycling.
The whole process takes an average of six weeks, although this time-frame tends to widen in the summer when consumption of cold canned drinks increases, Alcan\'s Caldwell said.
\"When we started out 12 years ago, the environment and green issues were a very hot topic. Now I think everbody\'s a lot more aware of it and they\'ve adopted recycling.
Organisations like ALUPRO have been urging the public to recycle all its aluminium, from cans to milk-bottle tops to the trays for its curry take-aways.
The pressing need to recycle aluminium comes more from an energy-efficiency, rather than from the waste management perspective as aluminium smelters are some of the world\'s biggest consumers of electricity.
SMELTERS GOBBLE UP POWER
The UK Electricity Association estimates that the average household consumes around 3,300 kilowatt hours of electricity in one year, while a primary aluminium smelter uses roughly 13 kWh to produce just one kilo of metal.
In Britain today there are three operational smelters, which produce some 355,000 tonnes of aluminium a year, consuming enough power to light up well over 1,000 homes for one year.
Aluminium is fully recyclable, it can be processed time and again, with no loss of quality, and recycling saves up to 95 percent of the energy used to produce raw aluminium.
\"To us it makes sound commercial, as well as environmental sense, to recycle,\" Cherry Hamson, communications director at ALUPRO, said.
\"The essential message from the aluminium industry is that if you will collect it, we will recycle it.\"
The main problem dogging the recycling of all those many cans the British drink from is not the lack of initiatives, but the lack of funding for local authorities and public awareness.
\"We do our bit but the mega-money that companies apply to market their brands...we
don\'t have that kind of money. They have an awful lot of resources to advertise their products that we don\'t have,\" ALUPRO\'s Griffin said.
\"The educational task to make people aware of the benefits of recycling and also the means to stimulate them to overcome the lethargy and apathy out there is a major national job.\"
Story by Amanda Cooper
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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