By Alexis Van Maercke

Our conference From Vision to Reality; Closing the loop on steel packaging on 1st February, launched our new report How to recycle steel – Why steel packaging recycles forever.

In this report, pre-treatment before incineration is the second of our six key recommendations to close the loop on steel recycling and reach our vision of zero steel packaging to landfill by 2025.

In his opening speech at the conference Viliam Gašpar, current president of APEAL, highlighted how recyclable materials such as steel are still ending up in household residual waste due to the absence of well-organised separate collection, infrastructure and/or citizens sorting at home. This residual waste fraction is then either incinerated or in some European countries even landfilled.

Sorting before disposal to incineration or landfill represents a tremendous opportunity to recover valuable material that would otherwise be lost, a view shared during our conference’s panel on optimising separate collection, which featured Joachim Quoden, Managing Director of EXPRA, Clarissa Morawski, CEO and co-founder of the Reloop Platform and Tim Moerman, Sustainability & ESG Director Europe, Anhauser-Busch Inbev (ABInBev).

Watch more in our highlights video here.

When steel packaging waste is treated by incineration, state-of-the art pre-treatment processes, including magnets, generally yields a higher-quality input to recycling compared to packaging recovered through incineration bottom ash treatment. If the separated steel packaging waste follows one or more treatment phases, it is then used as an input for recycling operators, replacing virgin material in the manufacture of new steel products.

However, after sorting, even when using magnets, it cannot be guaranteed that the steel packaging scrap bundle does not still contain impurities, such as steel products that are not packaging, plastic films and collection bags that are pinched to the steel containers. Citizens might also squeeze in plastics, paper or cardboard inside the steel packaging.

To reduce the burden on sorting facilities, we also recommend that public authorities educate consumers on how to handle steel packaging waste so that the material recovered before incineration is as free of contaminants as possible. If citizens are not able to sort their waste effectively at the point of collection, the cost of sorting the waste before incineration may become prohibitive and more recyclable material will be lost. I’ll examine this in more detail in one of my next blogs.

In a nutshell, as demonstrated at both our conference and in our report, we believe that optimised separate collection is the key to high quality recycling. However, where this is not possible, it is important that pre-treatment prior to incineration takes place to ensure that valuable steel is recovered.

A copy of the report can be downloaded here