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Feature: Proving metals are a money spinner

The metal packaging industry has welcomed a study that outlines financial benefits for local authorities if they include metal cans in kerbside collection schemes.

The study, funded by the Department of Trade of Industry (DTI) and conducted by Dr Julia Hummel of Eco Alternatives examined the economic impacts of including metal packaging in multi-material kerbside collections of household recyclables.

Dr Hummel was asked to undertake the research using the Kerbside Analysis Tool (KAT) she launched in 2004. Using KAT the impact on the total costs as well as the unit costs — cost per tonne and cost per household — was assessed and evaluated with regard to the likely overall efficiency of systems excluding/including metal packaging. Stage two of the study considered how the findings from stage one can be presented to local authorities, their contractors, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and other stakeholders to promote the inclusion of metal cans in kerbside collections.

According to the report: “The focus on the diversion of biodegradeable waste from landfill, the weight based recycling targets and WRAP’s remit to concentrate on materials for which recycling markets are difficult, has meant that metal packaging has fallen outside all the current initiatives and drivers promoting increased post consumer recycling.”

Despite this, an increase in the collection of post consumer metal packaging is considered “essential” by metal producers in order to meet their obligations under the Packaging Directive and UK Producer Responsibility Packaging Regulations. The report goes on to say: “However, with the regulatory pressure to collect metal packaging resting with the producers rather than the local authorities it is up to the producers to persuade the authorities to include the materials in their kerbside collections.”

The conclusions of the study give clear guidance to local authorities and show that whether local authorities are introducing a new collection scheme or expanding an existing one, there are likely to be quantifiable economic benefits if metal packaging is included.

The research shows that the cost benefit of including metals in kerbside collection can be realised for kerbside sorted, co-mingled and two-stream collections and that the collection of metals, even at low recovery levels can have a net benefit on the cost of kerbside collection and MRF processing systems.

In addition, the inclusion of metal cans should increase the recovery of other targeted materials, contributing to an improvement of Best Value Performance Indicator 82a, and revenues from the sales of metals alone will more than off-set the additional collection and sorting costs of collecting more recyclables.

John May, manager at Corus Steel Packaging Recycling, one of the organisations behind the original idea for the study, said: “It is clear that there are real advantages to be gained by including both steel and aluminium packaging in kerbside collection systems and, together with our partners in the aluminium industry, we would like to see local authorities establish and expand systems to collect both steel and aluminium. Given that there are also ready markets for the collected metals, there is every reason to collect them.”

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