Masters Of Metal

Stuart Pritchard August 13, 2015

Nick Mullen (2)small



Flexible and forever, when it comes to being green and being seen, MPMA Director and CEO, NICK MULLEN, explains why ore should be at the fore…

Consumer research shows that products in metal packaging are perceived as safe, attractive and give value for money. Not quite so understood by consumers is that metal packaging recycles forever and will be around to serve their children, grandchildren and future generations. The reason for this is that metal can always be recycled with no loss of quality and operates in a material-to-material loop – the ultimate example of circular economic thinking.

Metal makes sense

Metal makes sense

Using materials efficiently creates more with less and delivers greater value for society with less input, to this end the metal packaging industry across Europe has an ambition that no material should go to landfill and at least 80% of consumer packaging should be returned to the process.

Metal has long led from the front, keeping resources in use, extracting maximum value whilst recognising that packaging has a critical role to play in minimising waste.

In order to improve understanding, the industry has looked more closely at packaging material characteristics with a view to maximising the potential for resource efficiency.

The Swiss consultancy Carbotech, together with an expert group from the metal packaging sector, has carried out a study to identify more detailed and precise categorisation of packaging materials. The current approach simply classifies materials as renewable or non-renewable and this, in our view, is insufficient for the development of good practices in sustainable resource management: it fails to account for material degradation and its impact on resource management.

The study examines both the chemical and physical properties of a material to help define what is permanent and non-permanent. The research elaborates on the differences between materials that lose their inherent properties when recycled (degradation) and materials that do not. Those materials that do not degrade can be infinitely recycled which brings significant savings in resources. This new categorisation is important, since the permanent materials concept perfectly matches society’s vision for a circular economy.


Retailers and brand-owners have a firm grasp on the environmental implications of their packaging, but as a permanently available material with infinite recycling capability, the can has never been more relevant. It can take as little as 60 days for a drink can to be recycled and be back on shelf.

Raise a drink to recyclability

Raise a drink to recyclability

The ‘Metal Recycles Forever’ mark, led by Metal Packaging Europe (MPE) and which now graces metal packaging, targets consumers at the point of purchase. Following research conducted by MPE amongst keen and reluctant recyclers in the UK, France and Spain, it became clear that some consumers still don’t ‘get’ the real value of metal recycling, or appreciate fully just what happens with collected metal.

The mark seeks to remedy this and is now presented in 15 languages, encouraging consumers who, incidentally, purchased some 85 billion products in rigid metal packaging last year across the EU, to understand their role in keeping metal in the resource loop by recycling their empty metal cans; the mark visually draws consumers’ attention to metal’s unique sustainability benefits.

In support of retailer and brand communications the sector has developed ground-breaking recycling initiatives, including the award-winning MetalMatters programme which has helped local authorities encourage households to recycle more cans and as by-product more packaging in general. Since its inception the programme has worked with over 50 local authorities covering three million house holders and has witnessed an 18% increase in metal capture.

Similarly Every Can Counts, launched in 2009, drives the recycling of drinks cans in public places – at work, outdoor events such as music festivals, and through food on-the-go outlets. With over 1700 organisations signed up to the scheme, many partners report a significant improvement in drink can recycling – which again, in turn is boosting the collection of other packaging materials.


According to the British Retail Consortium over 200,000 tonnes of food waste is lost through the supply chain each year and as broadly understood, canned foods continue to have the shelf life characteristics most packaging formats can only find inspirational.

Canned Food UK ( has been reinforcing the message that canned food is convenient, versatile and can positively

Stay in the loop with metal

Stay in the loop with metal

contribute to a balanced, healthy diet as one of the recommended five-a-day. Through CFUK’s Cooking Channel on YouTube and collaboration with celebrity chefs such as James Martin, consumers have also been encouraged to use canned food in day-to-day cooking. And according to Kantar Worldpanel data, the campaign is helping to support brand activities with consumers spending more on canned vegetables and fruit this year than last.

Technological advancements continue each year with stronger, lighter materials and new processes being adopted. As understanding of metal’s outstanding sustainability credentials become more widely recognised we can see an increased understanding of why metal for packaging is at the centre of circular economic thinking.