Record high for UK aluminium beverage can recycling

The UK’s recycling rate for aluminium beverage cans hit a record 82 per cent in 2020, a year-on-year six percentage point increase in a market that saw significant growth, according to the government’s Environment Agency (EA).

With the Covid-19 pandemic leading to a significant increase in at-home consumption, more aluminium cans were collected and recycled than in any year on record, the EA recorded. Packaging recovery notes (PRNs) – which provide evidence for the recycling of packaging waste – were issued for a total of 151,515 tonnes, an increase of 31 per cent compared with 2019 figures (115,808t).

Breaking these figures down, 106,047 tonnes of separately-collected aluminium packaging was recorded in 2020 (compared with 89,543t in 2019), while the volume recovered from incinerator bottom ash (IBA) increased from 26,265t to 45,468t. 

Compared with other packaging materials – whose recycling rates also increased year-on-year – aluminium reported by far the greatest rise. Exceeding 2020 business targets by an impressive 15 per cent and realising a surplus of 36,845t, the year boasted the highest-ever aluminium packaging recycling rate.

Commenting on the figures, Rick Hindley, executive director at Alupro, the UK’s aluminium packaging recycling organisation, said: “In a year where aluminium packaging sales figures rose significantly, announcing record-breaking recycling rates – in particular an aluminium beverage can rate reaching 82 per cent – is excellent news indeed.

“A sharp increase in the volume of separately collected aluminium packaging recovered at the kerbside is a clear reflection of changing consumer behaviours and increasing awareness of the benefits of recycling, while the rise in the volume of aluminium recovered from IBA can be attributed to a number of new companies approved to issue PRNs and the commissioning of several new UK energy recovery facilities.”

Hindley added: “Looking forward to the next 12 months, which sees the annual target for aluminium packaging recycling increase to 66 per cent and a carry-in of 8,326t, it’s too early to predict how volumes will change. Figures for the first three months of 2021 suggest that aluminium packaging collection rates have continued to grow. However, with lockdown restrictions now easing and more packaging consumed on-the-go, it’s imperative that we maintain best practice recycling practices – whether inside or outside of the home.”