Businesses told to recycle it - not can it

by Michael Smith

Beverage cans can be recycled over and over again and are already the world's most recycled drinks packaging item - but many steel and aluminium cans used outside of the home are not being recycled.

About 30% of the 8bn drinks cans sold in the UK each year are consumed at work or in public places where there are often no facilities to recycle them. Many councils even refuse to put such recycling bins into parks and open spaces because of the fact that they might get contaminated in that the hooligans would put something else in there – and I can guarantee that they would do just that.

This, the fact that so many cans are not being recycled, is a problem that is worrying the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro) so much that it has launched a new programme, Every Can Counts, to help employers set up and promote drinks recycling within their organisations.

It follows successful pilot schemes run with energy supplier nPower at its offices and with drinks company Stella Artois at university campuses.

Several waste collection firms, including Biffa and Severnside Recycling, have already joined the scheme in its initial focus area of the West Midlands, where Alupro hopes to establish a best practice model to roll out nationwide.

It is hoped that if more waste collection firms sign up, the scheme - which is funded by Alupro members, can manufacturers, aluminium recycler Novelis and WRAP - can be expanded to all areas of the country.

Rick Hindley, executive director of Alupro, said that a number of factors such as increasing landfill prices, new regulations on commercial waste, and greater public interest in recycling meant the time was now ripe for businesses to focus on cans.

He told edie: "Before, the economics haven't really stacked up, but now we are at a point where it does make economic sense and now there's a willingness from companies and employees to do it."

One of the most important elements of the programme is the communications campaigns that companies are encouraged to adopt to tell employees how to recycle and what difference their hard work is making.

Mr Hindley said: "The energy saved by recycling one can is enough to run your computer for one hour. That's a fact that really means something to someone working in an office."

What few people, in the councils and in the aluminium industry seem to realize, however, or, as far as government is concerned do not seem to want to realize, is that if there would be more of an incentive to recycle drinks cans (and other things) people might actually do so more.

There used to be can recycling centers local to most areas once upon a time – and this is no fairy tale though the way things are going one could believe that it would be – where people could bring in their cans and get paid a penny for every aluminium can. Most of those centers are nowadays no more.

In other countries reverse vending machines are in use that are very heavily in use as well. People in places in the USA actually, and entire families do so in oder to to supplement their incomes, walk the streets with bin liners in hand picking up soda cans from the environment as well as from the littler bins and they then turn those into ready cash. Three cheers for the reverse vending machines.

In other places in the USA where such machines and participating stores are not available there are local – and may of them are local enough for sure – recycling centers that buy in the bags of cans at what would appear a very decent rate, for I was told by center managers, as well as users, that most folks, including kids, don't leave there with less that $100 in their pockets of an evening.

This might be a way to go also in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Alas, I doubt this would ever catch on in the UK and that simply for all the excuses that will be given by the governments as well as and especially as this would take profits away from the industry itself.

I know I am a cynic but I just cannot see the aluminium recyclers and manufacturers part with even a small proportion, such as the penny or two a can, as used to be done, as the greed is far too strong. Why should they even consider that as long as they have a government that will force people to recycle and punish them if they don't. No wonder we are getting nowhere in the UK.

This is not to say that I do not support the efforts of trying to get those can recycled by the means of this scheme and others. It would be nice though if those that actively recycle in this way could get some financial reward and such rewards would also encourage more recycling in the end.

© M Smith (Veshengro), October 2008