In this ‘insights from industry’ article John Gardner, chief sustainability officer for Novelis, talks to Gary Thomas about the increase in aluminium recycling and how recycled aluminium can be used in the beverage and automotive industries.
GT: Could you please give a brief overview of Novelis?
JG: Novelis is the world’s largest aluminium rolled products company. We’re supplying sheet and coil aluminium for lots of interesting brands and products that we use in our everyday lives. For example, we sell a lot of aluminium into packaging, so your soft drink or beer can is made out of our aluminium!
We are also supplying a lot of aluminium to the car industry. Aluminium is very light, strong and highly recyclable. It is very good for the car industry because they are doing their best to reduce greenhouse gases and optimise fuel economy.
They’re doing their best to lightweight their cars and they are working very closely with us on that. There were about 5 million cars supplied last year which contain aluminium supplied by Novelis and that’s growing year over year.
GT: In what way can Novelis Aluminium help to make vehicles more environmentally friendly?
JG: There are a number of key drivers. When we look at sustainability, we try and look at the overall lifecycle of the product and so we work very closely with our customers. So with Jaguar Land Rover for example we work very closely looking at the whole environmental impact, from the production of the material, to manufacturing in their plant and our plant, to how the product is used during its lifetime by the consumer and then what happens at the end-of-life.
We work very closely with their engineers so that we can produce the product that has the best impact on the environment i.e. less fuel use and emissions. At the end of life we can recycle that product and take environmental benefits from the aluminium through the recycling.
GT: Could you take us through the Novelis recycling process? Are recycled product then used again in your rolled products?
JG: We’re very lucky as aluminium is highly recyclable and unlike other materials we can melt it down and make it into exactly the same product time and time again. For example with beverage cans we have a plant in Warrington in Cheshire where we melt down the cans and supply them back into the drinks industry. They cannot tell the difference between the recycled material and primary material, as it has exactly the same quality.
We can do that endlessly, and that process saves 95% energy compared to the primary route plus 95% greenhouse gases. It’s a fantastic environmental story but also a great economic story.
We can use the same process with automotive products, as well as electronics and architecture.
Bales of crushed aluminum cans at Novelis recycling plant in Berea, Kty.
GT: What percentage of the rolled aluminium that you produce comes from recycled material?
JG: Overall globally we’re at 39% and our intention is to get to 80% by the year 2020.
GT: Where are you recycling plants situated globally?
JG: Currently we’ve got a major facility in the UK, three in the USA, a major plant in South Korea, and the biggest plant in South America (situated in Brazil) which we are currently expanding.
We have also just started construction on what will be the world’s largest recycling plant, located in Germany, so we’re growing very strongly to meet our 80% target. We will be pretty much doubling our recycling capacity over the next couple of years.
GT: What have Novelis done to promote the recycling of aluminium cans?
JG: Globally it depends on what the local regulations are on waste, but we generally work very closely with our different partners in the supply chain whether that’s our drinks costumers, local authorities or waste management companies.
There are different cultures around the world with regards to recycling, but we will operate in the most appropriate way to the local community.
In the UK we’ve been highly active in promoting can recycling and we have direct relationships with over 700 communities. We are working with local authorities directly to employ many kerbside programmes in the UK, and we also have strong ties with community and charity schemes.
GT: in your opinion, is enough being done globally to recycle aluminium cans?
JG: We are very encouraged that recycling is growing year on year. About 70% of aluminum cans consumed globally are already recycled. This makes aluminium the most recycled beverage container material, and that has been growing steadily over the last 10 years. This is due to a big effort on working with education, as well as the infrastructure to make sure that we have the capacity to do this.
Shredded aluminum cans to be recycled at Novelis plant in Oswego, NY
GT: What are some of the other important sustainability targets that Novelis is working towards?
JG: We’ve got 10 major targets across the different areas of sustainability, covering the economics, the environmental impact of the business and also the social impact.
On the environmental side, we have total greenhouse gas emissions, which we are trying to half by 2020.
We’ve got an energy intensity target, which is trying to reduce our energy intensity by 39% by 2020. We’ve already made good progress on this, and have made 19% improvement in the last two years.
We’ve got a target on our water usage, so we are trying to reduce water usage by 25% by 2020. We are also aiming to reduce waste going into landfill to zero.
GT: Sustainability is of course important in an environmental sense – how important is it in a business sense?
JG: Very important! We try and balance business decisions by looking at all sides of sustainability. Our view of life is that sustainability is vital to our long-term business. We clearly need to make money in the long run, and we see sustainability in terms of what products we should be supplying, what products society wants, and what products we can add value to.
So obviously sustainability has good environmental benefits, but we also see it as good business sense.
GT: Your Annual Sustainability Report shows great progress within the company-could you tell us a little bit more about this please?
JG: Yes, we are very happy with the progress we have made recently. Here are some of the key statistics:
Recycling increased from 33 to 39% over the last year
In the last 2 years we have had 19% improvement on energy consumption
11% improvement on water use
7% reduction in greenhouse gases
18% improvement in landfill reduction
GT: What are the sustainability targets for Novelis in the future? How do you see the aluminium industry progressing over the next 10 years?
JG: We see some strong growth potential for aluminium in the coming years and this is largely driven by sustainability factors. People want good environmental products such as lightweight products that will save emissions, and also want things that are recyclable and made out of recycled products. So we are seeing strong demand coming from our customers in our key markets, driven by sustainability, which is very exciting for us. So we are gearing ourselves up for growth in that regard.
We are just setting up our first manufacturing plant in China which will initially be serving the automotive market. China is a very interesting place for sustainability and especially for aluminium. Obviously the economy is growing very quickly, and the Chinese are very aware of the need for future thinking about energy, emissions and recycling. What we can do by making sustainable, low carbon recyclable products they are very excited by.