Novelis' Andy Doran: 'Consumers make the first step in recycling and we ignore that at our own peril'

Written by: Greg Rhodes | Published:
Novelis' Andy Doran

Aluminium recycling rates are high in the UK because it's so easy to melt and reuse. Novelis' Andy Dorann, senior manager, sustainability and recycling development at Novelis Europe, is hopeful it will become a closed-loop material this generation

Recycling and Waste World caught up with Doran on a tour of the company’s Warrington plant, which has the capacity to recycle every aluminium can produced in the UK.

“I moved into the sector by chance really,” he recalls. “I was trying to work in the environmental sector and saw an advertisement for a recycling role with Alcan Aluminium Can Recycling, and like many in the resources sector – once you’re in you’re hooked.”

And that hook clearly remains. “Passion and commitment sound a bit pompous but I feel genuinely lucky to be able to do a ‘day job’ that is also a personal driver of mine, so I’ve let that steer my career path. I was also told by one of my early managers that ‘career’ also means to move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way. So maybe I’ve done a bit of that too!”

Naturally optimistic, Doran believes “life’s too short to dwell on career lows” and prefers to reveal a few highlights. “I look back fondly on chairing LARAC [the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee] at a time of quite some change, helping form and launch the Resource Association as a voice for UK reprocessors.

“Within Novelis I’ve seen the steady growth of our company to be the world’s largest recycler of aluminium and the opening of the world’s largest recycling plant in Germany in 2014.” Aluminium is in some ways the perfect metal to recycle, and Doran expects the upward curve will continue.


The most recyclable material in the world?

The present rate for aluminium can recycling in the UK is 75% and is anticipated to grow to at least 85% by 2020 and to 90% by 2030. “These rates will be achieved by continued rises in kerbside performance, expansion of ‘on-the-go’ collections and improvement in post collection separation, either before or after energy from waste processing.

“Novelis’ own goals are to continue to increase the quantity of recycled metal we use to supply our customer products, which stands at 61% globally. Aluminium beverage cans are reportedly the most recyclable containers of all and bring major benefits across the supply chain through to the consumer.

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For the end user they are lightweight, shatterproof, quicker to chill and provide a total light barrier so drink taste is not affected.

Cans stack easily with great cube efficiency, optimising numbers in a given volume. That means fewer vehicles on the road, more cans stacked on shelves, and less fees in terms of producer responsibility.

For recyclers and reprocessors such as Novelis benefits include easy sorting and high intrinsic value. They are permanent materials that don’t lose their quality during remelting and can return to the shelves reborn as new cans in as little as eight weeks.

Like many ‘heavy’ industrial processes aluminium recycling comes under scrutiny over energy usage but compares favourably with production of aluminium from bauxite ore.

“Continuous improvement is, well, continuous, as in many industries. The basic processes remain the same but, for example, our plants now operate with handsfree casting to reduce occupational risk.

“If you look at the energy used in the European industry for recycling aluminium it has improved by 12% from 2010 to 2015, while still maintaining an impressive 95% reduction in comparison with primary material production.

Our rolling operations – what we do to make can sheet ready for production – have reduced by 25% over the same period. Technology will help industries respond to global recycling imperatives, Doran states.


New challenges and new solutions

“The latest ‘plastics crisis’ has opened up new challenges but at the same time new opportunities – and with a more technologically-connected and urban future global sustainable consumption and recycling could look very different to how they do from today’s viewpoint.

“In some shape or form carbon needs to become a more active currency, either at industry or at personal level. Only then can consumers be rewarded for making the right choices, including recycling at the end of life.

In terms of the prospects for a sustainable planet, Doran states: “We truly stand at an inflection point. It may be overly simplistic, but my generation wanted to do good because it saw problems on the horizon.

Today’s generation – Y, Z or Millennials – are beginning to act because that horizon is now within their lifetime. Sadly sometimes things have to become real before people will act.

“Public perceptions are moving quickly but the actions will take longer. You only need to look at this year’s Glastonbury Festival to see that there is still quite some gap. To move the dial on carbon more quickly will need leadership from the government and industry.”

The seismic shift in attitudes to single-use plastics, for example, certainly bears him out as he adds: “I can see a future where no virgin aluminium or even metals will be needed; when we fully close loops on material and aluminium.

Because of its permanent characteristics it is recycled again and again, but even that is some way off as our market is growing as aluminium use rises because of its ‘sustainability in use’ properties – lightweighting for example.

“Plastics probably need a serious review and some rationalisation of use, with many single uses being the classic example. That said, there are many instances where plastic is the most appropriate material from a lifecycle perspective.

“However, in making lifecycle decisions we need to expand the evaluation to fully assess some of the wider concerns not traditionally considered by lifecycle assessment such as marine pollution and microplastics.”

Regardless of the country in question, unified attitudes and actions over recycling spell the key to driving aluminium’s circularity. “Local cultures and practices clearly play a big part in shaping the recycling in any European country,” says Doran.


Value of recycling

Novelis collects used aluminium beverage cans from countries that have mandatory deposits, voluntary (sometimes financial incentives), and more standard municipal collection schemes. “One thing that unites them all is that the value of aluminium is always recognised and it is the consumer who has to make the first step – so we ignore that at our peril,” Doran warns.

“Novelis is an Indian-owned company but we operateas a separate entity from parent company Hindalco. As Novelis our only operational footprint is in China, where we are within the automotive value chain. Regarding recycling, I would hope that the many lessons learned over 30 years’ experience in Europe can help accelerate the circular economy worldwide.”

The intrinsic worth of aluminium is acknowledged widely, and affects issues such as extended producer responsibility (EPR). “EPR is a good policy but needs to be shaped and controlled in an appropriate manner.

Those paying the bill have a legitimate right to want to scrutinise expenditure and those providing the service can likewise expect full net cost recovery.

“As an aluminium company Novelis is interested to see that the value of aluminium within recycling schemes is recognised and is used for aluminium only and not used to subsidise other less circular materials,” ]concludes Doran.


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