Recycling aluminium packaging – A UK Case Study

Recycling aluminium packaging – A UK Case Study
Aluminium Coils

Experience, advocacy and working programmes boost “real” industry performance

The UK Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro) acts as the voice of the industry on issues of government policy and legislative development. Its various activities are directed to help the industry and community meet and exceed recycling targets for aluminium packaging.

But, where are we now and where are we going?

The national recycling rate for all aluminium packaging, Alupro informs, has risen to 55% from the previous 48%, and the estimated recycling rate for aluminium drinks cans now stands at 69%, up from 60%, but these indices, it is claimed, could be even higher.

According to packaging waste recovery data recently released by the Environment Agency the latest “business” recycling total for all aluminium packaging exceeded the 2015 level of 74,190 tonnes, equating to a 49% recycling rate, reaching 76,027 tonnes.


However, research conducted to determine how much aluminium packaging is reprocessed or exported, beyond that reported by operators accredited to issue packaging recycling notes (PRNs), revealed that at least 10,000 tonnes of qualifying used aluminium packaging did not go through the PRN system in 2015. This means that an estimated 86,200 tonnes was actually collected for recycling, equating to an overall 55% recycling rate for 2015. The study was commissioned by Alupro and undertaken by independent environmental consultancy, Resource Futures. To put the industry situation in context, an accurate, efficient and consistent measurement regime is called for, especially to record improvements in performance.

The “real” 2015 recycling rates announced by Alupro are based on the methodology outlined in the EU’s Circular Economy package proposals. This removes the aluminium – which, by weight, forms a minor part of laminate and composite packaging – from the total amount of metal put on the market.

Executive Director of Alupro, Rick Hindley, says: “Our research clearly demonstrates the need to encourage more reprocessors to become accredited to ensure that the PRN system provides an accurate record of recycling performance. It sets a clear benchmark for our sector and we will use our findings to focus on what needs to be done to meet the ambitious new material recovery targets proposed under the EU Circular Economy package. It is also vital that the measurement system we use in the UK for calculating recycling performance is aligned to the methodology used throughout Europe.”


Ongoing efforts

So, how does Alupro see the situation, and what continuing efforts are being made to reach its industry goals? Key elements include communication, education and awareness, as Rick Hindley adds: “Meeting ambitious EU recycling targets and making the circular economy a reality are the responsibility of the entire supply chain, and will require long-term commitment and involvement throughout the materials sector. Our programmes are helping to educate consumers and make recycling part of everyday life, and will continue to be key elements in our industry’s roadmap to 2025. Successes to date show that partnerships work and that Alupro programmes are making a major contribution to delivering lasting and positive behaviour change, and increasing the recycling rate of aluminium packaging.”


Funded by the aluminium packaging producers, fillers and reprocessors, Alupro works with local authorities, the waste management industry and the wider metal packaging sector to develop and stimulate the UK’s collection infrastructure. It also manages and operates information and education campaigns to encourage people to recycle more, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing.

Alupro represents the industry on issues of government policy and legislative development. With a broad knowledge of the recycling sector it is ideally placed to serve members and to offer advice and support on a range of issues.


Comprehensive representation

Membership reflects all sections of the aluminium packaging loop – producers, manufacturers and processors, including rollers; packaging converters – beverage can makers and foil manufacturers; packer fillers; reprocessors and exporters, and industry associates. As a result, the industry is fully represented to policy makers and opinion formers, in the UK and Europe.

Alupro points out that its programmes have been commended as examples of ‘best practice’ by Governments, received awards from industry and in some cases have been replicated across Europe. Most importantly they have generated positive results – increasing participation among consumers, improving metal capture rates and generating additional revenue, and returning on investment.

Alupro project manages several programmes funded by metal packaging manufacturers, reprocessors and leading brands, which the industry believes are making a vital contribution towards encouraging people to understand the value of recycling and help them recycle more.

The Every Can Counts programme, for example, focuses on the 44% of drinks cans that are used outside the home – in particular in workplaces and by people on the move. The programme helps organisations set up and promote recycling for staff and customers to make it easier for them to recycle. This includes providing collection containers and free marketing and promotional materials. Alupro also works with brands, local authorities and event organisers to promote recycling, for example at music festivals, shopping centres and tourist attractions.

The initiative was developed in the UK but has been replicated in nine countries across Europe, most recently launching in Greece and Spain.

MetalMatters focuses on improving metal capture rates in local authority recycling schemes, partly by helping educate households to recycle more of the metal packaging they use at home. Campaigns are developed with local authorities, and jointly funded by the MetalMatters industry partnership and local campaign partners. Alupro has project managed MetalMatters since 2012 and since then campaigns have been operated in over 50 local authorities, directly targeting more than 3.2 million households.


School resources

Alupro’s dedicated education website offers free, curriculum-linked resources for pupils aged seven to 14. This includes different stages including the Aluminium Life Cycle of packaging and provides activities and stimulus materials for use in lessons. Another level centres on information and activities linked to the school Design & Technology curriculum:

A prominent programme spotlights design and technology using aluminium – the Alu D&T Challenge has been developed to help students aged 11-14 to become more aware of aluminium and the valuable contribution it can make to sustainable design.

The Challenge is a free online resource which focuses on the Design & Technology (D&T) curriculum. It has been designed for this age level to be flexible, so can be used either in school, as homework or club activity. Students can work as individuals or in teams and choose one of three design challenges; to create an innovative and sustainable package, building or a vehicle featuring aluminium. Each autumn term designs can be entered into a national competition for a chance to win equipment for the school and a cash prize for the student.

The resources are available to download from Alupro’s dedicated Schools Website,, which contains additional information and interactive materials to help pupils attempt their designs. More than 1700 pupils have shared their creative designs for aluminium with Alupro since the Challenge was launched and the next competition opened for entries in September.

Another initiative, Leave your cap on! helps householders understand how to reclaim the aluminium used in screw caps on glass bottles – by replacing the top back on the empty bottle before recycling it. Campaigns have run successfully in over 25 local authority areas across the UK since 2013, and the message is now reinforced prominently on more than 5000 glass collection banks.


The campaign is co-funded by the European Aluminium Foil Association and British Glass.

Again at a local level, aluminium can and foil recycling provides a valuable revenue stream for a whole range of service providers and community groups. Alupro works closely with enterprises around the UK, many of whom offer services such as business collections and foil recycling.


Photo captions: Reclamation and recycling of aluminium packaging from both business and domestic waste realise a huge material bonus and generate valuable feedstock for secondary processing – such as for rolling sheet to make new cans, bottle closures and food containers! (Courtesy: Alupro)


Ken Stanford gained a B.Met. in Metallurgy and Materials Science from the University of Sheffield and an M.Sc. In Science & Technology Policy from the University of Manchester, UK.

Formerly Group Managing Editor and Technical Director at DMG World Media in the UK, responsible for editorial in publications including Aluminium International Today, and also the ALUMINIUM series of events, including in Germany and the USA. Particular industry interests centre on sustainability and environmental issues, new technologies, innovations and applications.