Alexis Van Maercke Apeal secretary general image

Secretary general of APEAL Alexis Van Maercke  

The Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging (APEAL) has launched a report on How to recycle steel- Why steel packaging recycles forever. This follows their initial report on recycling published in 2018, which was reportedly focused on providing information about recycling and motivating a boost in the rates of recycling in Europe. The new report, APEAL notes, anticipates the changes that the industry will see in line with the European Green Deal, and specifically the Circular Economy Action Plan and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, which will be reviewed this year.

“Our new report focuses on best practice in four key areas: optimised separate collection, collection and sorting of steel closures, scrap quality standards and design for recycling,” said Alexis Van Maercke, secretary general of APEAL. “It provides updated information relevant to all organisations and stakeholders, both in the public and private sector, wishing to learn more about a real and successful material recycling story.”

The report outlines that that although the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP) includes the requirement of packaging to be recyclable or reusable by 2030, this does not mean that packaging cannot still end up in landfill. Avoiding landfilling is a key step towards circularity, it notes, calling for a review of the Landfill Directive to address this issue, which would be in line with the association’s vision of landfilling zero steel packaging by 2025.

It goes on to recommend a “recycling hierarchy” for packaging that promotes materials that can be recycled repeatedly without losing their inherent properties. Distinguishing levels of recyclability in this way, it suggests, would be useful in the path towards circularity, and “enable Member States and EPR Schemes to factor this distinction in the eco-modulation of EPR fees.”

It is noted that to facilitate sorting, consumers should be informed how to properly recycle by avoiding placing an item made from one material inside one made from another. Consumers play an important role in effective recycling, the report adds, but they must have access to both the information and the correct infrastructure to be able to fulfil their role.

Providing the necessary, clearly communicated information is particularly important when it comes to parts of the packaging such as closures, which the report highlights as being one of the items most often recycled wrongly by consumers. In terms of closures, for sorting facilities that use trommels to sort by size, APEAL suggests adding “overband magnets” to flows to retrieve closures, preventing them from being incinerated or landfilled as part of the “residual waste flows” that they often end up in. Closures should be either disposed of with other steel packaging when the infrastructure can support that, or, for twist-off-closures, disposed off with the glass container, finding their way into recycling.

The report explains that “optimised separate collection” would be the most beneficial system for recyclable steel waste, and that this would be in line with the requirement of the Waste Frame Directive (WFD) to implement separate collection schemes for materials and categories of products. However, it notes, there is currently no European legal framework to specify how to set this up. It suggests that ideally, this would be done at a European level, and notes that the Joint Research Centre (JRC) aims to have a report on its ’Separate collection of municipal waste: Development of a harmonised EU model’ by the end of the year. However, it goes on to argue that any attempt at “harmonised separate collection” would need to consider the unique situation of each location, and, because of this, “emphasis on infrastructure harmonization would be more effective if done at [the] national level to deliver the quantity and quality of scrap materials to reach targets.”

Steel is identified as a permanent material in the sense that it can be recycled again and again without losing its properties. Although this means that it is not affected by the way that it is collected and sorted, these processes do affect how much and of what quality the steel fraction is. “In case of high-quality output form the sorting plant, no further treatment is needed prior to delivery to the recycling operation,” the report notes. It goes on to highlight the importance of having criteria for steel scrap to ensure a standard of quality.

Multilayer packaging, the report adds, poses an issue in terms of recycling. It recommends that mono materials should be used where possible, and when more than one material is used out of necessity, the different materials should be kept separate.