Interview with European Aluminium’s Maarten G. Labberton and Magdalena Garczyńska

Interview with European Aluminium’s Maarten G. Labberton and Magdalena Garczyńska

In the run-up to European Aluminium’s 15th International Aluminium Recycling Congress, which will take place between February 26-27 in Colmar, France, Aluminium Insider sat down with Maarten G. Labberton, Director Packaging Group and Magdalena Garczyńska, Director Recycling.

  • What, if any, effects have the Trump administration’s Section 232 tariffs, and sanctions on Rusal had on the implementation of the I+ Manifesto?

Magdalena: The global trade challenges have only reinforced the need for the holistic industrial policy we call for in our I+Manifesto. Since the launch of our Manifesto, the Commission has made several steps in the right direction, but unfortunately, no progress has been made on recognising strategic value chains that are instrumental for Europe in accelerating its transition to a sustainable economy. By failing to identify these value chains, we risk losing our competitiveness which is already undermined by the trade challenges you mentioned.

  • How do you see the phasing out of aluminium scrap imports by China affecting the European aluminium scrap trade?

Magdalena: The European export of aluminium scrap has shifted towards other countries in the region, namely to India and Pakistan. As such, aluminium scrap export from Europe is still at a high level. For instance, even though preliminary data for 2018 indicate a drop of EU exports of aluminium scrap to China by 15% in 2018, the total volumes of EU exports increased by about 5% in 2018 in comparison with 2017. There is a chance that more countries will adopt China’s policy.

China is pushing the trading industry to produce the right quality of scrap. Perhaps this is the signal for traders and technology developers of the European recycling value chain to invest more in sorting technologies

What is important to mention is that refusing low-quality aluminium scrap does not help the environment. It is rather about ensuring that the right environmental health and safety conditions are set to process the scrap. We would like to see more countries adopt high environment, health and safety (EHS) standards so that they are equivalent to those applied in Europe. Europe also needs to invest heavily in research in sorting technologies, allowing society to make better use of scrap and ensuring the circular economy in Europe.

  • What effect will the EU Circular Economy Package have on the primary aluminium producers in Europe?

Magdalena: Of course, the Circular Economy Package stimulates recycling. But this does not mean that primary aluminium producers in Europe should worry about going out of business. Primary and recycling are of equal importance to Europe’s future.

Our upcoming Vision 2050 report shows that in the coming decades, demand for aluminium will remain strong in Europe and worldwide. It is expected to increase by a further 50% by 2050. With supportive policies for our sector by 2050, recycled and primary are expected to have almost equal shares of total European demand which is forecasted to reach around 18 million tonnes.

  • What changes should be made to Europe’s current method for measuring recycling rates?

Maarten: The calculation point for measuring recycling rates should be set at the entry to the aluminium remelter or refining furnace, after completion of all preliminary sorting operations. This will enable a real comparison of the national recycling results for all packaging materials and avoids that pre-sorted fractions with high contamination levels will all be counted for recycling. It will also stimulate the Member States to invest in more effective and cost-efficient sorting plants using the latest separation technologies and prevent that poorly collected and sorted fractions either end up in incineration or landfills or are being exported to third countries for further treatment under poor environmental and safety conditions. We also strongly recommend the EU Member States to properly report the metal recovered and recycled from incinerator bottom ashes as this possibility is now recognised in the amended Waste Framework and Packaging & Packaging Waste Directive.

  • What innovations do you see on the horizon for aluminium packaging and recycling?

Maarten: We expect that due to the upcoming split of the present joint metal recycling target into a separate ferrous metal and a separate aluminium target Member States and Extended Producer Responsibility schemes will pay extra attention to the collection, sorting and recycling of the aluminium packaging fraction. If they make the right investments in upgraded sorting facilities with larger capacities, we should be able to collect and sort more and meet the future recycling targets. At the same time, we should closely monitor the quality of the sorted aluminium fraction as usually the high scrap value of aluminium pays to a large extent for the collection and sorting costs. We highly recommend that the Member States harmonise as much as possible their existing collection infrastructure and stop introducing a wide variety of bins with different colours and different sorting instructions. A well established and extended ‘PMD’ blue bag or yellow bin will usually generate good results, although EPR schemes should pay extra attention to the so-called ‘out-of-home’ consumed beverage cans. We strongly recommend that EPR schemes, brand-owners, festival and event organisers and even offices and canteens make use of our can recycling awareness programme Every Can Counts, which is now established in 15 European countries.

The upcoming discussion on the eco-modulation of the ‘Green Dot’ fees of the EPR schemes and the need to adjust the fee levels to the recyclability of the collected packaging items will further increase the pressure on brand-owners to use and develop packaging solutions ‘designed for recycling’. We believe that aluminium with its ‘permanent material’ qualities is perfectly positioned for these discussions as aluminium doesn’t degrade during the recycling process and maintains its essential properties, even after numerous recycling trips.