Greenwashing potential problem for aluminum industry, Norsk Hydro official warns industry members at Nov. 17 conference in Istanbul; company's recycling chief says Hydro to promote end-of-life recycling rate as correct measure for aluminum recycling

Alison Gallant

Alison Gallant

Nov 17, 2011 – Norsk Hydro

OSLO, Norway , November 17, 2011 (press release) – "A producer promoting recycled content above 90 percent is 'greenwashing' its metal," Hydro's Roland Scharf-Bergmann warned in a speech at a Metal Bulletin conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday.

In recent years, attention to global warming has led consumers and policymakers to demand information about recyclability measurements in products made from aluminium.

"Today, two indicators are typically used in the industry: 'recycled content' and 'end of life recycling rate'," says Roland Scharf-Bergmann, head of Recycling in Hydro.

Recycled content: inappropriate for aluminium

At the 19th Recycled Aluminium Conference in Istanbul on Monday, he emphasized that wrong use of terms may lead to "greenwashing" of aluminium – that is, overstating the environmental benefits - with the potential to undermine the credibility of the aluminium industry.

Recycled content looks at how much recycled material is used in the production of a new product. The end of life recycling rate (also known as the EoL rate) compares the actual amount of metals obtained from recycling with the amount of metals theoretically available at the end of the life of a product. For example, the end of life recycling rate of aluminium in buildings in Europe is 96 percent.

Roland Scharf-Bergmann, head of the Recycling unit in Hydro's Metal Markets business area.

Hydro to promote end of life recycling

Hydro has decided to actively promote end of life recycling rate as the appropriate measure for aluminium recycling. This view is supported by the International Aluminium Institute and several other aluminium producers and recyclers. But still there are industry players promoting a high level of recycled content when marketing their products towards customers.

* In the right-hand column you will find a newly developed explanatory leaflet about aluminium recycling and the difference between recycled content and end of life recycling.

More primary metal is necessary

Globally, estimates show that in 2010, 10.6 million metric tons of aluminium was collected and recycled after use. The same year, global primary production exceeded 41 million metric tons.

"Since the demand for aluminium is growing each year and because aluminium products on average have a long lifetime expectancy, there is a need to introduce more primary metal into the loop of aluminium. That means that despite efficient collection and recycling of aluminium products at the end of their life, the average recycled content in metal supply will not reach 40 percent before 2050," says Scharf-Bergmann.

"A producer marketing high average recycled content of above 90 percent in their products is actually greenwashing. The only way they can attain such high recycled content on average is by counting process scrap in their calculations," he says.

"In order to reach a level playing field, Hydro is striving for an aligned definition and calculation method for recycled content that is visible to all stakeholders involved. However, our clear ambition is to continue promoting end-of-life recycling."

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