Steel packaging has achieved the European Union (EU) recycling targets four years ahead of schedule, the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging (APEAL) has revealed.

The independently verified figures by the APEAL show that 78.5% of steel packaging was ‘really recycled’ in 2021, compared to the EU’s target of 70% by 2025.

The data also showed that Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, and Slovakia recorded the highest recycling rates, all of which surpassed 90%.

Romania, Slovenia, and Croatia were the poorest recyclers as per the APEAL’s data.

APEAL secretary general Steve Claus said: “The figures affirm that steel remains the most widely recycled sales packaging material in Europe, a testament to its unique properties and the collaborative efforts of stakeholders across the value chain to maintain a 100% closed material loop.

“Unlike many other packaging materials, our newly published figures are based on the actual recycling of steel packaging, not merely its collection.”

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The data was published following the introduction of a harmonised method for calculating packaging recycling rates within the EU.

The new methodology studies material ‘actually recycled’ at the entrance of recycling operations.

EU members previously leveraged different methods for different materials, which increased rates while hiding challenges when recycling multimaterial packaging formats.

Claus added: “Steel’s magnetic properties make it easily recoverable from any waste stream, and its permanent quality ensures it can be recycled repeatedly without any loss in material quality.

“These attributes have allowed steel to remain the most widely recycled primary packaging material in Europe for another year running and demonstrate why steel is so well aligned with the EU’s vision for a circular economy.”