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#30.10.2018 Ensuring quality of packaging steel scrap is the third step towards a real recycling dynamic

By Alexis Van Maercke

The purpose of separate collection systems is to deliver a waste stream that is kept separate to household waste, to facilitate a specific type of treatment.

Source segregated or co-mingled, steel packaging is typically collected together with aluminium and plastic packaging, paper and beverage cartons. Steel’s unique magnetic properties provide a natural advantage in the sorting step allowing it to be removed from the waste stream, compressed into bundles and stored separately.

These bundles can still contain a certain level of non-ferrous materials, coming from the other packaging materials co-mingled with steel, and their presence determines a parameter known as the impurity level. The efficiency of sorting operations can therefore be measured by the impurity levels in steel packaging scrap bales.

To maintain the quality of material in the steel for packaging scrap value chain, it is essential that a quality control process starts when the material arrives at the sorting facility. This process can only be monitored if a quality standard for packaging steel scrap is established.

APEAL’s report offers 4 examples of different systems.

In the United Kingdom (UK), while steel packaging scrap guidelines exist, the parameters defining quality of the material can be agreed upon in isolation between two interested parties. Harmonised quality guidelines would help to ensure a minimum level of quality is respected in those transactions.

Similarly, in Belgium, all green dots have packaging scrap quality guidelines but as in the UK, these exist as an orientation only. They lack a standard which sets the average parameters that make a secondary raw material acceptable.

Following the liberalisation of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) market in Germany, there are currently 11 EPR schemes in place which must all ‘compete’ in order to have a place in the German market. This creates a packaging recycling scenario which is unique in Europe. It also results in a situation where the desire for high quality material is outweighed by economic interests. Indeed a second sorting step has had to be implemented in the recycling process to reduce the impurity threshold to below approximately 5%. This highlights the dysfunctionality of the way on which packaging waste scrap is handled.

In France, the system encompasses the fulfilment of the material standards (standards par matériau) by stakeholders in the supply chain. The complete set of requirements sets a threshold which sorting centres have to comply with and its application is compulsory. This enables the quality of packaging scrap bundles to be tracked effectively.

Establishing scrap specifications or standards for packaging scrap steel is key in delivering high quality packaging scrap. If not already existing, mechanisms which foster the use and implementation of scrap specifications or standards at a national level need to be set in place.

Launched at the Steel for Packaging, a Pioneer of Circular Economy Brussels event involving representatives from the European Parliament, the European Commission, Member States and Regions, APEAL’s report: Good Practices on Separate collection, Sorting and Recycling of Steel for Packaging, has been compiled using examples of good practice from countries across the EU.

Showcasing the varied projects, systems and processes by which steel packaging is recycled the report provides detailed information for organisations and individuals wishing to learn more about a real and successful material recycling story and aiming to play a meaningful role in the drive to increase recycling and achieve a more circular economy.

Obtain the full report here