Credit: Planet Ark
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By Philip Fleming, Executive Director of the Aerosol Association of Australia.
Australians are amongst the world’s most prolific consumers of aerosols – at around 10 cans per year per person, or 240 million cans a year! Globally, we sit at third place behind the US and United Kingdom.
It’s not only Aussie icons like Aero-guard and Mortein that account for the popularity of aerosol cans. Personal care products like deodorant, body spray, shaving gels and hair care now account for nearly half of all aerosols sold locally. These types of cans and bottles are part of most Australians’ daily routines.
If we’re good at using these products to make ourselves smell good in the morning, sadly we aren’t as good at making sure they’re recycled when we’re finished with them.
The most common searches made on the RecyclingNearYou.com.au database show that around 90 per cent of Australians have access to aerosol recycling through their kerbside recycling service. Yet many Australians are still putting their empty aerosols to their general waste bin rather than where they should be – in the recycling bin!
Between 2012 and 2013, the Australian Packaging Covenant found that only 40 per cent of used steel cans – including steel aerosols – were recycled, while around 49 per cent of aluminium aerosol cans were recycled. (Around 40 percent of aerosols are made of aluminium with the balance made of steel.)
It seems that many Australians don’t know that they can recycle their empty aerosols.
That’s despite a safe and proven track record of recycling empty aerosols both here and overseas (especially in Europe) that goes back several decades.
Indeed, research undertaken earlier this year by Planet Ark for National Recycling Week shows 54 per cent of people don't know aerosols are recyclable, and another 13 per cent were ‘unsure’ (so they are probably throwing them away rather than recycling them!).
That's bad news for the environment… but something that aims to be changed with the main focus in this year’s National Recycling Week being on aerosol recyclability.
Steel and aluminium – the materials used in aerosol cans – are both easily recycled as they can be separated by magnets or eddy currents (CAUTION: entertaining heavy metal music).
There are major environmental benefits in ensuring that these metals stay in the ‘loop’ rather than being lost to landfill. Steel made from recycled materials, such as recycled aerosols, saves 75 per cent of the energy that would be used in making it from virgin resources. And for aluminium it's a staggering 95 per cent saving.
While some consumers may be deterred from recycling their empty aerosols by unwarranted safety fears, common sense steps such as not piecing or attempting to crush our empty aerosols – and well recognised protocols in the waste handling industry – mean that this shouldn't be putting us off recycling this valuable resource.
In his time with the aerosol industry, Phillip Fleming witnessed the total phase out of ozone-depleting CFCs from consumer aerosols back in 1989. More recently, he’s seen initiatives promoting aerosol recycling, which began with a steel can-industry initiative with Planet Ark back in 1997 that ran for nearly 10 years.