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Aluminium and steel recycling targets flawed shows WRAP report

The recycling targets for steel and aluminium packaging have been based on flawed data according to a report commissioned by WRAP.

The report, in conjunction with Valpak, aimed to reassess the accuracy of the 2012 and 2013 aluminium and steel packaging quantity figures placed on the market (POM).

It found that the original Defra figures were incorrect, with the quantity of aluminium POM being underestimated while steel was overestimated. It concluded that new ranges for recycling rates should be calculated based on these figures, with lower than existing ones for steel and higher than existing for aluminium packaging.

The project opted to use the net pack fill methodology as an alternative to Defra’s packflow method.

The packflow figures were originally estimated through a data gathering exercise and industry consultation.

This process involved regressing the reprocessing figures against the historical reprocessing figures, with the addition of estimates for unaccredited material. By comparing historical and current figures, a future trend was predicted.

According to the report, this did not provide a “particularly sophisticated projection”, and ignores external future factors such as the maturity of the collection system and the timing of potential policy interventions.

The net pack fill methodology, which was deemed to be more robust, uses data obtained from the Environment Agency for accredited reprocessors. It focuses on the quantity of packaging reported at the packing/filling stage of the supply chain rather than at the selling stage.

The newly generated figures were also uplifted based on estimates of material that was POM but not officially recorded.

steel recycling figures

A comparison between the steel figures for both the net pack fill and packflow methodologies show that packflow figures were inflated by more than 25,000 tonnes in 2006.

This disparity widened until 2013, with net pack fill calculations suggesting that packflow overestimated more than 100,000 tonnes of material being POM.

aluminium recycling figures

Aluminium figures were also shown to have at least 10,000 tonnes of material unaccounted for every year by the packflow methodology. This represents an inaccuracy of at least 6%, with figures showing that the disparity has been increasing steadily from 2006.

A number of additional findings were cited:

  • a lack of data for steel and aluminium packaging from the hospitality, commercial and industrial sectors, with the report recommending a new project focusing on these
  • an estimated 19,000 tonnes of aluminium packaging that is reprocessed but does not have a PRN issued against it and 9,000 tonnes for steel packaging
  • EU and UK targets are still being met for both metals
  • if current trends continue, recycling rates will rise until 2020
  • a more robust methodology for estimating unreported POM should be developed

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Critically important as metal packaging is to those concerned with packaging targets, it may be worthwhile remembering that the total tonnage of all metal packaging processed last year equated to around 0.23% of the metal recycled in the UK for the same period.

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