Aluminium cans make their way on rail

Dansk Retursystem is shifting its cans bound for recycling onto rail.

Reusable aluminium cans are the world's most frequently recycled beverage containers. But that wasn't sustainable enough for Dansk Retursystem, the company that operates Denmark's deposit system. So the company drew on DB Cargo Scandinavia's support to make a quick switch from transporting its recyclable cans by road to rail. This rail-based logistics solution for the route from Dansk Retursystem's plant in Høje Taastrup, Denmark, to the recycling plant in Nachterstedt, Germany, sent the firm's CO2 emissions for the transports plummeting by 75%. 

Dark times for light metals on the road

Most of the beverage cans returned in Denmark through the Dansk Retursystem deposit system come to Hanover-Linden by single wagon. From there, Novelis, the world's leading supplier of aluminium recycling, transports the cans by train to its plant in Nachterstedt, where they are melted down. "Following a test phase from November 2021 to January 2022, there is now a fixed rail connection between Denmark and Germany in place, which we serve twice a week", says Martin Price, who is responsible for international sales at DB Cargo Scandinavia. "Our next step is to make the transports faster and more frequent to put us in a position this year where we can use trains to move all the cans from eastern Denmark to Germany." 

New route starting in summer 2022

In light of these plans, Price and his team are currently thinking about stocking up on more equipment for the first mile to create additional capacity. "On the main run we rely on closed double-axle HBB wagons for two reasons", says Price. "Firstly, we have a steady influx of this wagon type in Denmark. Secondly, both the weight and the dimensions of a trailer loaded with 48 aluminium bales fit into these wagons perfectly." The trains are set to take a new route beginning in July 2022. Instead of traveling the Hanover-Linden route, they will call at Göttingen, 100 kilometres to the south. "This is why we are currently looking for a solution that also allows for service to the Novelis plant in Nachterstedt along the new route."

A wagon full of recycled aluminium cans: Dansk Retursystem, which operates Denmark's deposit system for bottles and cans, successfully relies on sustainable rail to transport its cans bound for recycling. 

Carbon neutrality by 2030

Dansk Retursystem's goal is to reach a 50% cut in CO2 emissions by 2025. Given that aim, transporting recyclable cans to Germany on rail is of crucial importance. Heidi Schütt Larsen, Deputy Director and Head of the Circular Economy Department at Dansk Retursystem, thinks this has made aluminium's good story even better: "We have already optimised the process so as to drive the management of our deposit system with the revenue from the sale of aluminium cans. As a result, we now have a 100% circular economy for cans, and we've taken a vital step toward achieving our ambitious CO2 targets."

Three million deposit cans every day

Every day, Denmark's residents turn in some three million deposit cans, of which slightly over half are transported east of the Great Belt through the factory in Høje Taastrup to be melted down in Germany. In 2021, Dansk Retursystem succeeding in preventing 210,000 tonnes of CO2 from being emitted during can recycling. What's more, these results are set to improve even more once the switch to rail is completed.

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Martin Price

International Sales DB Cargo Scandinavia