The Can Makers’ Can-Do Attitude

Stuart Pritchard July 16, 2018

MARCEL ARSAND, Chairman designate of the Can Makers looks at the role of both metal in general and cans in particular when it comes to sustainable packaging…

We rely on the planet’s resources for our way of life, but with global resources becoming even more limited and society’s demands increasing, prioritising the management of these resources efficiently and sustainably is an increasingly important issue.

The editor’s lunch arrives. Cans can be recycled and back on the shelf within days

Recycling materials has long been an important part of sustainable living to reduce waste and the use of energy and aluminium, specifically, has long been a leader in recycling because it is a permanent material that can be recycled again and again, without losing any quality of its structural integrity. It can be reformed and transformed infinitely, so, what may start out as a drinks can, can then be recycled, melted down and then turned into something completely different, as part of open loop recycling. Alternatively, in as little as 60 days, it can simply be made into another drinks can and be back on the shelf.

Aluminium beverage cans have now been certified as the world’s most recycled drinks container (RRS) and Alupro recently confirmed that 72% of all aluminium drinks cans are currently being recycled in the UK. Up to 80% of all metal ever produced in the world is still available for use. Furthermore, steel for packaging has also proven to be a ‘green’ hit – it recorded an average European recycling rate of 78% in 2015, a record performance, which included five countries exceeding 85%.


Aluminium is eco-friendly and aisle friendly

But the success of metals recycling is not just down to conscientious industries or consumers, it is also down to the fact that metals are more valuable than other packaging materials, making the recycling of drinks cans easily financially viable and self-sustaining. With greater focus being placed on packaging in the media, consumers are now more concerned than ever about their waste and are keen to know that their choice of purchase meets their environmental expectations.

So, what makes metal packaging a sustainable alternative?

  • It’s infinitely recyclable – it can be again and again for multiple purposes.
  • Metal is a permanent material – as a natural element it maintains its physical properties forever, meaning it will always be available for future generations once it’s in the material-to-material loop.
  • Importantly, it doesn’t lose its structural integrity in the recycling process.
  • Drinks cans are 100% recyclable and easily collected and recycled.
  • Cans are cube efficient – they are more easily stacked than bottles, taking up less room and ultimately reducing the size and number of shipments needed, therefore less fuel is needed for transportation.
  • Metal dramatically reduces the carbon footprint of the next one made, saving raw materials, energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
  • Making one aluminium beverage can from raw materials uses the same amount of energy that it takes to recycle 20 (Novelis).
  • Recycled aluminium has exactly the same properties as new – but takes just 5% of the energy to produce (Alupro).


Beverage cans fit snugly into the circular economy

Beverage cans fit well into the circular economy – where resources are used, recovered and regenerated. Permanent materials like drinks cans are the building blocks for the circular economy. If you heat aluminium or steel scrap in a recycling facility to the point where it melts, what comes out is completely the same as what went in because metal is structurally unalterable. It’s then kept in use at its highest utility and value forever, ensuring that the maximum usage out of metal through recycling is achieved. This continuous recycling process is also defined as ‘real recycling’.

It’s not just consumers that are responsible for recycling products to create a functioning circular economy, however, the right legislative framework is needed as well. It is inherent in a circular economy that it starts and ends with a new product that can be recycled again and again. Recycling rates are a good indicator of whether or not recyclates are used for new applications. Packaging and packaging waste policies should be based on sound life-cycle assessments. In a circular economy, this means the focus should be on multiple – if not infinite – life-cycles.