Metals: a true recycling story
It’s estimated that an astonishing eighty per cent of all metal ever produced is still in use today.
And because of the intrinsic value of metal, once made it’s rarely wasted and with good recovery systems in place it’s possible to achieve recycling rates of ninety per cent.
Reducing can weights
Continually reducing can weights through down gauging the side wall of the can has both reduced packaging costs and at the same time increased sustainability.
The weight of a steel 330ml beverage can has been reduced by sixty per cent, from 50g in the seventies to 20g currently, and aluminium beverage cans reduced by a third over the last 25 years, with no loss of can functionality.
Food waste is a major problem in both the developed and developing worlds.
UK households are still throwing away an estimated 4.2 million tonnes of food and drink annually.
So what can metal packaging do to help?
Food loss in the USA
Well, according to a study carried out by the US Department of Agriculture quite a lot!
It’s important to note that only seven per cent of canned food in the US is wasted compared to 32 and 36 per cent for fresh and frozen food so canned food can make a major contribution to the reduction of food waste.
Food waste resulting from household activities
A study by the Technical University of Munich in 2011 concluded that by increasing consumption of canned food in Germany a reduction of 1.5million tonnes of food waste could be achieved or to put it another way a one per cent increase in canned food consumption would save 52,000 tonnes of food waste every year
So, I’ve given a brief summary of the environmental credentials of metal packaging and I believe that we have a track record of success in this vital area and one we can be proud of. And whilst my primary focus is metal packaging, I know that my counterparts representing other packaging materials, plastics, glass, paper and board etc. would also have a good story to tell.
What’s gone wrong?
From being a wonder material one day to being a material pariah the next, the language used to describe plastic and by extension all single use packaging is more suited to an existential threat to the planet than an environmental issue which has suddenly assumed centre stage in the British political, media and regulatory world.
As an industry, we’ve been focussed on offering consumers packaging which offers the convenience and benefits that suit our affluent, on-the-go lifestyles. We’ve been working hard for decades to reduce the impact our products on the environment by reducing energy consumption, material useage, landfill, etc. whilst designing our products to be able to be effectively disposed of at the end of their life.
We’ve risen to the challenge of year on year increases in recycling targets and designed and funded innovative campaigns to increase recycling rates further: for example the highly effective Metal Matters and Every Can Counts campaign, funded by the metal packaging supply chain and local authorities.
As an industry, we operate in a fiercely competitive supply chain with constant pressure to innovate, drive down cost and meet our responsibilities to all our various stakeholders and that includes providing an adequate return on investment. In order to achieve the above, often conflicting requirements, we rely on a fact-based, analytical approach.
An authoritative study by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation showed that less than two per cent of global marine pollution was caused by the whole of Europe and North America. Litter is the result of irresponsible social behaviour or inadequate infrastructure - it’s not caused by the packaging manufacturers.
But this is not the perception of the media, the Government and influential, well-funded NGOs; and, as we all know, perception is reality so we have to address this reality.
As an industry, we have failed to communicate sufficiently the rationale for having packaging in the first place and the environmental benefits/savings that packaging brings to society.
So what do we need to do?
We need to signal more clearly that we share the same environmental goals and aspirations as the Government and the public.
We need to communicate in a much more effective and constant way the benefits our packaging brings to consumers and this includes the legislators, all our MPs and, while we still have them, MEPs.
We need to articulate the steps that we have taken and will continue to take to minimise our impact on the environment and be actively involved in improving the planet for future generations.
We accept that the packaging supply chain has a responsibility to contribute more to dealing with packaging once it used and we support the revision of the Packaging Waste Recovery Note system (PRNs) to provide increased funding for communication to consumers and appropriate investment in collection and recycling systems in order to prevent "leakage” of used packaging into the wider environment.