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CLOSING THE LOOP – MAKING STRIDES IN ALUMINIUM RECYCLING

The case for the recycling of aluminium is compelling and Hulamin has commenced with a range of investments and actions to increase the recycled content of its products.

The recycling of aluminium from scrap aluminium into new ingots is a very energy-efficient process with only about 5% of the energy required initially to produce the primary metal needed in the recycling process. In addition to the energy saving, emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced and the degradation of the environment from bauxite mining and refining activities is avoided.

Recycling one beverage can saves the amount of energy needed to burn a 100 W bulb for four hours

The world’s increasing stock of aluminium in use is a resource bank which over time delivers more and more practical use and value from the energy embodied in the metal. There is an estimated 75% of the aluminium ever produced still in productive use – some of it having been through many recycle loops through its life cycle. Some recycle loops will be over 50 years for aluminium in buildings, reducing to 20 to 30 years in transport applications and as short as 60 days for aluminium beverage cans.

Aluminium beverage can scrap will increase the amount of aluminium scrap available in South Africa by 50% over the next five years

While Hulamin has since the establishment of its rolling and extrusions mills recycled its own process scrap as well as scrap from the manufacturing processes of its customers, it is the introduction of the all-aluminium beverage can in South Africa which presents Hulamin with a major recycling opportunity and the critical mass of scrap to trigger investment in recycling capability.

Aluminium beverage cans are the world’s most recycled packaging. Brazil recycles 98% of its cans, South Africa should be able to get to this level by 2025

Whereas the bulk of Hulamin’s sales of aluminium coil, sheet, plate and extruded profiles is used in end products with long life cycles, the aluminium beverage can is a short life cycle, high volume packaging product made entirely of aluminium (with some paints and lacquers). The cycle of a can from being bought from a shelf in a shop to being back on the shelf as a new can is on average 90 days and can be as short as 60 days in high volume recycling environments.

The used beverage can (UBC) offers the opportunity for closed loop recycling – new cans are made from used cans and maximum conservation of alloying elements in the aluminium used to roll the coil from which cans are made is achieved.

During 2014 and 2015 the steel beverage can in South Africa will be replaced by the all-aluminium can and Hulamin plans to maximise its use of used beverage cans (UBC) as input metal for its can-end and can body coil production in place of primary aluminium. To do this there are three key areas where Hulamin will deploy resources in order to achieve success.

First, Hulamin will work with the other stakeholders in the can value chain to promote a high beverage can recycling rate. The primary objective of the high recycling rate is that of environmental stewardship – to save the energy “embedded” in the aluminium can and to prevent the can going into a landfill. A major spin-off of the introduction of the aluminium can is the intrinsic value of the aluminium that makes up the used can – a factor which will make aluminium can collection in formal and informal waste collection and recycling a desirable activity.

Research and modelling by Hulamin of the impact of UBC recycling in the informal sector shows the potential for both job creation and the enhancement of earnings of existing collectors as a result of aluminium can collection. Upwards of 3 000 jobs could be created in collection activities by 2020.

Second, Hulamin must procure the UBCs recovered from the waste stream in sufficient quantity and at the right level of quality to give the recycling project the critical mass of feedstock. Hulamin’s preference is to work with the existing players in the packaging waste and scrap metal collection systems to achieve this, but the possibility of going upstream to capture the volumes needed cannot be ruled out.

Third, Hulamin is investing in the recycling infrastructure needed to recycle UBCs and other forms of end-of-life and customer scrap in the most effective and environmentally responsible manner. The presence of very thin, coated and painted scrap such as in UBCs and other foil scrap requires specialised furnace and scrap preparation equipment; these have been thoroughly researched and selected and the investment returns established. This has resulted in the investment in the new recycling centre being approved for installation adjacent to Hulamin’s current ingot casting centre on its Camps Drift site.

In refining its approach to the recycling opportunity Hulamin has fully embraced the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and plans to use the infrastructure created for aluminium can recycling to expand its recycling of other aluminium packaging and light gauge products. By providing a capability for the recycling of the aluminium in the end products of its customers, Hulamin will ensure that environmental impacts are minimised in a co-operative way with its partners in the aluminium value chain.

Hulamin’s drive to increase the recycling of aluminium in South Africa will result in an increase in its recycled aluminium inputs; a sure and certain step to ensure that the company’s future is dynamic and sustainable.

Nampak Bevcan Springs plant: can stock class scrap packed for recycling at the rolling mill