As executive director of the Aluminium Packaging Recycling Organisation (Alupro) Rick Hindley explained, this figure represents a 7% increase on the 2010 rate. "It's interesting that this is happening when there's growth in aluminium sales," he said. Can sales rose by 3% over in 2010, according to Alupro.
Hindley points to the success of the MetalMatters local government collection initiative and the Every Can Counts project, which focuses on on-the-go can collection. MetalMatters targets all metals through kerbside collection, was trialled last year, and is now being rolled out nationally.
"These programmes have caught the imagination of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has highlighted them as examples of best practice supply chain initiatives to the plastics industry, for instance," he said.
Sustainability director at Rexam Beverage Can Europe Welf Jung thinks the 60% recycling figure is testament to such partnerships. "One of the main hurdles is encouraging consumers to recycle wherever possible," he said. "Working with consumer-facing brands to deliver sustainability messages is key to ensuring more cans are recycled."
A prime example of brand involvement is Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), which joined Alupro last year and is now helping to fund MetalMatters.
CCE's investment in the Continuum Recycling plant for plastics may have notched up more headlines but, as Hindley pointed out, this type of eye-catching infrastructure project was already in place for aluminium 20 years ago.
Nonetheless, Alupro's schemes help to maintain pressure on capture and recycling rates. "In fact, the Every Can Counts brand has now been licensed to other parts of Europe, and could end up being used for can recycling schemes across the continent," he reported.
The aluminium sector's challenges relate to other forms of packaging. While recycling rates for cans rose 7% to 60%, the overall rate for aluminium increased 4% to 45% in 2011, according to Alupro. Increasingly, collection systems are targeting food cans, trays and foil, as well as beverage cans.
"A new area we're looking at is wine and whisky bottle closures, representing up to 5,500t of aluminium in the UK," said Hindley. "We think recycling levels may already be fairly high, since glass reprocessors tend to recover them. But because this bypasses the Packaging Recovery Note system, it may not show up in the figures."