However, the statistics from the European Aluminium Association (EAA) showed a yawning gulf between an elite band of nations who recycled 80 per cent or more of the containers in 2008 and those, including the UK and France, who are lagging behind.
The headline rate continues the overall positive recycling trend over the last few years – up from 61.8 per cent in the previous year, and 57.7 per cent in 2006.
“Although recycling rates vary a lot by country, there is a continued clear upward trend across Europe,” said an EAA statement. “While most countries with well-established deposit or take-back systems maintained their high recycling levels, other countries have improved as well.”
Germany, with an impressive reprocessing rate of 96 per cent, topped the league of European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries. Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland all surpassed the 90 per cent mark, while Denmark and the Netherlands recycled 84 and 85 per cent respectively. Russia and other central and Eastern European countries all returned figures claiming recycling rates of 75 per cent.
By contrast the UK and France recycled 51 per cent and 42 per cent respectively. Ireland recorded a rate of 47 per cent, Italy 58 per cent, while Greece came bottom of the league with just 36 per cent.
Explaining the lower recycling rates in the UK, one expert said ‘used beverage can’ (UBC) collection was based solely on reclamation from the consumer packaging waste stream. The 51 per cent figure was recorded in 2008 when kerbside schemes dominated collection and before new initiaitives had been introduced, he added.
Another significant factor was the method used to collect aluminium. Nations such as the Netherlands recover the metal from incinerator bottom ash while a number of others incentivise collection through deposit schemes.
Demand for aluminium cans is on the increase – rising from 32bn in 2007 to nearly 34bn the following year, said the aluminium group. Aluminium containers have a 70-per-cent overall share of the beverage can market in Europe. While consumption grew in Western Europe, it remained stable in most Central & Eastern European countries, said the EAA.
Sales of filled aluminium beverage cans for the wider European markets, including exports to non-European countries, grew by more than 5 per cent to 39 billion units. Western Europe showed strong growth of nearly 10 per cent whilst Central & Eastern Europe increased by 3 per cent.