According to an EU directive, 50 per cent of all metals must be recycled by 2008, and there are financial incentives for companies to meet their targets. On top of this, growing consumer and retail awareness means that environmentally-friendly packaging materials are achieving an increasingly high profile.
Steel recycling is a complicated business. Each Member State government must decide how best to achieve this overall target of 50 per cent, and in the UK, it was decided to set the target for steel at 54 per cent and the target for aluminium at 34 per cent, partly due to the fact that steel is easier to sort and recycle because of its magnetic properties.
In addition each company has its own quantified targets to meet, which brings with it additional pressure.
"We can't do this alone," Corus' steel recycling manager John May told FoodProductionDaily.com. "We need more resources to facilitate metal recycling. There is a perception that there is no problem finding a home for a recycled steel can, which is true. But the problem is being able to collect them in the first place."
May believes that the UK has made significant progress in recent years, though public awareness still lags behind other EU nations such as Germany. He believes that one way to both increase recycling and engage the consumers would be to bring more cans being brought out of the domestic waste stream.
"If you look at where most of the recycling growth is occurring, its here, because this sector has the most potential; commercial and industrial steel recycling is already very high."
Steel - and for that matter aluminium - manufacturers therefore want to see more curbside recycling collection points established, and believe that they have the backing of local authorities in this respect. The advantage of this is that consumers become an active part of the recycling operation, and because steel can be magnetically removed, it can be deposited alongside other metals.
"We complete with aluminium products, but we can coordinate in our recycling efforts," said May. "The idea is to make it as easy as possible for the consumer."
Steel packaging recycling in Europe increased by 1.3 per cent last year to reach just over 2.1 million tonnes, and the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging (APEAL) claims that the figures confirm steel's leading position in packaging recycling. May estimates that at present, 46 per cent of steel in the UK is recycled, although this is higher in other countries.
Current indicators suggest that recycling will continue to grow. APEAL estimates that, by the end of 2008, the recycling of steel packaging in the EU15 should near 70 per cent, with an average annual growth of 3.4 per cent.
Along with the 50 per cent joint recycling target of the Packaging Directive for steel, it is hoped that the progressive adoption into national law of the Landfill Directive will lead to a ban on landfilling unprocessed waste.
This should accelerate implementation of household waste sorting and recovery infrastructure in Europe. As a result, recycling will increase and so will the installed Municipal Solid Waste incineration capacity, where steel is magnetically sorted before or after incineration and recycled at the steel mills.
In the UK, all that is needed is greater public engagement and the establishment of a collection infrastructure to ensure that as much metal packaging as possible enters the recycling stream.