82% UK Aluminium Can 2020 Recycling Rate

By Paul Fears | 11 May 2021

With a 6% rise on 2019, the recycling rate for aluminium beverage cans in the UK reached a record high of 82% in 2020 (Alupro – April 2021).  According to Environment Agency (EA) published Packaging Recovery Notes (PRNs), 151,515 tonnes of aluminium packaging was collected and recycled, up 31% from 115,808 tonnes in 2019.

This positive news follows the announcement by European Aluminium and Metal Packaging Europe of a joint roadmap towards achieving 100% aluminium can recycling by 2030 (CanTech International – March 2021).

Indeed, aluminium remains one of the most successfully recycled materials on Earth.

Aluminium Beverage Can Recycling
The Aluminium Beverage Can

Successful Aluminium Can Recovery

A wide range of UK recycling initiatives, matched by the relative high value of secondary aluminium, has driven successful reclamation.  Although specific beverage can collections by the general public remain commonplace, the use of technology to easily and effectively recover aluminium packaging from a wide range of mixed waste continues to drive up recovery rates.

Post-consumer, aluminium packaging is present in different types of waste mixes depending on the waste management strategy of individual councils and the collection location (e.g. at a household, local authority distributed litter bins, etc.).  Commonly, the aluminium packaging is either within household segregated recyclables or in general mixed waste destined for landfill or incineration.

Both waste mixes pass through recycling plants to recover and separate individual materials such as aluminium, steel, plastic, etc.  The plant for household segregated recyclables is less complex than for general mixed waste and produces cleaner recovered materials.

In both cases, waste recycling plants incorporating an Eddy Current Separator successfully recover aluminium packaging, especially in the form of beverage cans.

Eddy Current Separator for Aluminium Can Recovery

An Eddy Current Separator uses magnetic forces to repel and hence separate non-ferrous metals such as aluminium from non-metallic materials.  The design features a two-pulley conveyor in which the head pulley has a high-strength independent magnet rotor mounted inside a non-metallic shell.

When an aluminium can enters the changing magnetic field of the high-speed rotating magnet rotor, a current is generated (Lenz’s left-hand rule).  This current produces its own magnetic field in the aluminium can which is continually in opposition to the magnetic field of the magnet rotor.  This North-North and South-South polarity confrontation forces the aluminium can to repel over a strategically-placed splitter, with aluminium separated from the remaining non-metallic waste.

Eddy Current Separator
Eddy Current Separator recovering non ferrous metals in a Finnish waste plant

Commonly, the Eddy Current Separator works in conjunction with magnetic separators (e.g. Overband Magnets), which recover the ferrous metal components (e.g. steel beverage cans).

Environmental Impact

There are many substantial environmental benefits to recycling aluminium, especially as the material is 100% recyclable.  3 key benefits reported on the Alupro website are:

  • Recycling aluminium uses 95% less energy than producing aluminium from raw materials;
  • It also saves 97% of greenhouse gas emissions produced in the primary production process;
  • Recycling 1 tonne of aluminium saves 9 tonnes of CO2 emissions and 4 tonnes of bauxite – the raw material from which aluminium is made. 1 tonne of CO2 is equivalent to driving over 3,500 miles;

Drive Towards 100% Recycling

Reaching a 100% recycling rate of any material is extremely challenging due to so many uncontrollable external factors.  However, the ability to recover aluminium using proven and successful technology such as the Eddy Current Separator will continue to push up the recycling rate.

Related Recycling Articles

For further information on Magnetic Separators, Eddy Current Separators, and ElectroStatic Separators for metal recovery in recycling applications or to discuss a specific project including undertaking tests in our Customer Experience Centre, please contact our technical sales team on:

Email: Gordon Kerr at GKerr@buntingmagnetics.com

Via the website

Telephone:  +44 (0) 1527 65858

Aluminium Can Photography: Paul Fears Photography

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