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Waste Management: Aluminium Recycling

Volume 688: debated on Monday 8 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure that the recovery of scrap aluminium sent from the United Kingdom to areas outside the European Union for recycling is carried out in an environmentally sound manner and to the standard required for recycling industries operating within the United Kingdom under the European Union integrated pollution prevention and control regulations.

My Lords, it is for producers, local authorities, waste management contractors and transporters to ensure that their waste is properly managed through all the steps in the recycling chain, including its final destination, wherever that may be. Defra wrote to all waste collection and disposal authorities in March 2005 regarding the illegal export of waste to European Union and other countries.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. That very guidance note from Defra has been part of the problem. I understand, and the Minister should be able to confirm, that Defra said that if there was any oil on aluminium—more than 0.1 per cent—it had to be classified as contaminated waste. At the moment in this country there is higher car production than for many years, the greatest amount of aluminium is being recycled, and every car uses more than 100 kilograms, of which 90 per cent is recycled. By sending that aluminium abroad, as we are obliged to do because in our requirement that there be no oil we are exceeding the EU obligation, we are losing jobs and our economy is being damaged. Will Defra look again at that guidance note to see why we are going that much further than the EU demands?

My Lords, I am more than happy to do that. As the noble Baroness is aware from her membership of the All Party Group on the Aluminium Industry, this is a complicated issue. The note, with its annexes, is quite complicated, but the competent authorities in all the countries to which we export for recycling—no disposal is involved—have to follow environmentally sound rules and regulations. They may not be exactly the same as the IPPC regulations, referred to in the Question, but they are broadly similar. I shall have the note looked at again, given the detailed point that she has raised.

My Lords, further to the Minister’s Answer, is he aware that the United Kingdom exports almost four times as much aluminium scrap outside the European Union as the whole of the rest of the EU? Is there an explanation for this? If so, can the House hear it?

My Lords, there probably is an explanation, but it is not for the Government but the industry itself to give. People are carrying out a legal trade of export. It is all regulated. Aluminium is not a designated hazardous waste therefore we do not have all the figures we would have if it were.

We benefit a lot from the recycling of aluminium wherever it is produced, because a huge amount of electricity is used to create it in the first place; therefore, the more that is recycled the better. Where it is recycled, however, is essentially up to the industry.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government have a role in ensuring that much more aluminium from small things such as drinks cans is recycled? It is currently less than half. As the Minister said, the environmental issue is that it takes about 90 per cent more energy to produce primary aluminium than it does to recycle it and it can be recycled many times.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. The figures for aluminium can recycling are 2 per cent in 1989 and 42 per cent in 2001—that figure is somewhat old, but it is still less than half. Recycling aluminium consumes only 5 per cent of the electricity and energy used in primary aluminium production. A kilogram of recycled aluminium saves six kilograms of bauxite, four kilograms of chemicals and 15 kilowatt hours of electricity. There is a lot to be gained and, I understand, no limit to the number of times aluminium can be recycled.

My Lords, have the Government had discussions with the industry about the conflicting views on the need to save energy and on transporting a relatively heavy material out of this country to be recycled? Perhaps the Minister could have a word with members of the industry. If he did, and they were receptive, we might save jobs in this country and, of course, reduce CO2 and other emissions.

My Lords, this is a matter of international trade. We use about 900,000 tonnes of aluminium; we only smelt about a third of that. There is a gap in what is known to be lost: too much is going into landfill from domestic waste. There is a lot to be gained in looking at the flow. China and India, where it is going, will of course use that waste as a primary product. As the noble Lord says, however, CO2 emissions from travelling around the world must be taken into account.