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Can recycling: music to my ears

Improving the recycling rate of drinks cans used out of the home has been a focus of the metals sector for a number of years. As around 30% of the 9.5bn drinks cans sold in the UK are not consumed in the home, so capturing cans from workplaces and ‘on the go’ locations plays a significant role in keeping this valuable resource in the recycling loop.

In March, the Government announced that the statutory packaging recycling targets that will increase year on year, are to be introduced from 2013 until 2017. And the packaging targets for aluminium will increase by 3% each year.  

Yet, while consumers are largely convinced of the benefits of recycling and are prepared to recycle at home where ‘door to door’ collection services are provided, encouraging people to do the right thing with their empties when on the move can be difficult. In ‘on the go’ situations the infrastructure is less well-established, the audience is mobile and recycling is not front of mind. These are some of the barriers the Every Can Counts programme has been working to overcome over the past three years.

Within a local authority setting Every Can Counts supports projects ranging from promoting on-street recycling in town centres to ‘on the go’ recycling at beaches. Most recently it has partnered with Weymouth and Portland Borough Council to promote on-street recycling ahead of a summer that will see the town’s population almost double as a result of visiting tourists, day trippers and spectators. Twenty Every Can Counts-branded can crushers have been installed across the borough in high footfall locations in and around the town centre, tourist sites and in areas that do not currently benefit from on-street recycling facilities.

Promoting recycling using Every Can Counts materials increases demand for, and participation in, recycling of other materials

To raise awareness among the local community and visitors, promotional roadshows have been organised in the town centre, and advertising on the town’s open top buses during the summer will reinforce the message and encourage residents and visitors to ‘make their can count’. The arrival of the crushers even generated local press and TV coverage.

Shoppers and staff within retail environments also benefit from the programme. Every Can Counts works with multi-site retailers and shopping centre owners to provide collection points at point of sale and where the cans are consumed, and promotional materials that educate both employees and visitors. In several areas the programme is supporting the community recycling sector, with local enterprises offering can recycling services to businesses under the Every Can Counts brand, and funding their service with revenue from the metal collected.

Targeting different audiences has contributed to the programme’s growth. Young people consume by far the most drinks from cans and historically have been difficult to engage in recycling. Every Can Counts has developed a number of initiatives to encourage this key group of consumers to recycle their cans. Now in its third year, the Can Film Festival rewards positive recycling behaviour in students with free film screenings in return for cans for recycling. Every Can Counts is currently running Student Recycling Champions, a project that will give three students and recent graduates an opportunity to work with Every Can Counts to help promote the drinks can recycling message at Reading Festival.

The Student Recycling Champions campaign builds on Every Can Counts’ long established relationship with festival organisers and their waste management and cleaning contractors. Through constant testing and refining, the programme has developed a model to collect and sort the cans onsite, in partnership with waste contractors. It also provides highly visible, interactive promotions to engage with festival-goers and communicate the recycling message pre, during and post event. This summer, Every Can Counts is continuing to support recycling at events including both V Festivals, Reading and Global Gathering.

The real measure of any recycling programme is its ability to get consumers to act on the message, and this is a key focus for Every Can Counts. Around one million drinks cans, which equates to nearly 15 tonnes of aluminium and steel, were collected by the programme across the 2011 festival season. At last summer’s V Festival in Telford alone, the programme contributed to diverting around 50% of the event’s waste from landfill - a steep increase from 10% in 2010. Although the programme specifically targets cans, feedback from registered organisations shows that promoting recycling using Every Can Counts materials increases demand for, and participation in, recycling of other materials.

The appeal of Every Can Counts is clear: for waste management and recycling companies Every Can Counts provides an opportunity to offer an added-value service to customers. For the collector the metal generated through the programme has intrinsic value, which can make a significant contribution towards the cost of providing the service.  And as a brand it is proving engaging as a call to action, with wide appeal across a range of audiences.  It is also an effective way for organisations, local authorities and events to demonstrate commitment to environmental goals.

To date, there are over 5,000 Every Can Counts branded collection points - at over 1,900 individual sites across the UK - and these are growing.

Rick Hindley, programme director, Every Can Counts

The Every Can Counts programme is funded by the UK and European drinks can manufacturers, the aluminium and steel packaging and recycling industries, and energy drinks brand Red Bull, and works in partnership with a broad range of organisations including businesses, local authorities, and waste management and recycling companies. Its remit is to encourage and enable more people to recycle drinks cans outside the home. In 2011 the programme accounted for 51m used beverage cans collected for recycling, which equates to 774 tonnes of aluminium and steel. Every Can Counts is contributing to the rise in recycling rates for metal packaging, by helping to raise awareness of the need for recycling on the go. The programme supports organisations that want to do more to enable staff and customers to recycle the cans they use.

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