Cans: at-source or post-consumer separation?

In the Netherlands, waste cans are collected via one of two routes: with residual waste or PMD waste (plastic, metal and drinks packaging). Many municipalities query whether separate collection of cans via PMD has benefits compared with post-consumer separation at waste-to-energy (WTE) plants. There are also questions regarding costs and service aspects. At the request of NVRD, the Dutch trade association for waste management, CE Delft has created an assessment framework to enable municipal authorities to make a more informed choice between at-source and post-consumer separation of packaging cans. In this context, post-consumer separation is taken to mean recovery of metals from bottom ash after incineration at a WTE plant. The assessment framework includes considerations of environmental impact, costs and service.

In the case of steel cans, it makes no difference environmentally whether they are collected with PMD waste or recovered at WTE plants. With aluminium cans, collection with PMD may presently have a slight environmental edge on average, because a number of WTE plants have a somewhat lower recovery rate for aluminium. With respect to costs, PMD collection of cans appears to be slightly more expensive down the chain as a whole, by around € 1.50 per capita per annum. These costs depend very much on how collection is organized, though. In practice it is ultimately service considerations that will often be the deciding factor, particularly in municipalities with ‘reverse collection’ or a system involving differentiated tariffs.