European Aluminium’s annual Packaging Seminar, held each September, is always a highlight of the working year. In addition to presentations and debate on latest developments in our sector the programme provides the host country with the opportunity to give an insight into their specific recycling and recovery challenges. It never fails to be informative and is often inspiring.
This year’s event, hosted by the Spanish aluminium packaging recycling organisation Arpal, took place in Mallorca. And far from being an opportunity to soak up some late summer sunshine the packed two day programme provided a fascinating insight into the recycling and waste management challenges that the island faces, and the solutions they have adopted to deal with their tourism-driven economy.
With just 900,000 permanent residents but up to 20 million holidaymakers visiting Mallorca each year, primarily during the summer months, the island faces huge swings in waste volumes bringing unique challenges. In the early 1990’s the island government adopted a zero waste to landfill strategy and awarded the contract for management of solid municipal waste to TIRME.
Mallorca’s model of integrated waste management is focused at the TIRME Environmental Technologies Park north of Palma. It includes materials recycling facilities for multiple waste streams including dry recyclables; anaerobic digestion, composting, an energy from waste plant and an environmental education and information centre. The site alone is impressive, with the main building constructed from recycled materials and offering tours of the MRF by monorail! According to TIRME over 10,000 visitors – including tourists and the island’s school children – visit the site annually.
Of particular interest to delegates was the Energy from Waste (EFW) plant which includes an incinerator bottom ash (IBA) treatment process. This recovers metals from the EFW process which are sent for reprocessing. Aluminium packaging recovered from IBA is now the main recycling protocol within the UK’s PRN system, and is having a significant positive effect on aluminium’s recycling performance – as demonstrated in this year’s waste dataflow figures.
Whilst recovering materials directly from the waste stream through clean ‘closed loop’ systems is always going to be industry’s preference, newer technologies are making a valuable contribution by capturing material that ‘escapes’ the established sorting system. These include lighter materials, such as foil wraps and composite packs, and some ‘less easy’ to collect for recycling, for example from some commercial and ‘black bag’ waste streams.
European Aluminium has recently launched a short film which explains the IBA recovery process and the increasing significance of the ‘secondary’ recovery loop to Europe’s, and the metal packaging sector’s ambitions, to create a circular economy.
Recent media coverage on recycling has focused attention on packaging that is regarded, by consumers at least, as being ‘hard to recycle’ – with disposable coffee cups and single-serve capsules both being in the spotlight. It is therefore important that we get the message across that for aluminium recovery is possible and recycling is taking place and give consumers the confidence that if aluminium is used in their packaging industry can, and will, keep it in the loop.