“A remarkable year” is how Nick Mullen, director of the Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA), describes 2011. And you would be hard pressed to disagree with him after increased can production, a raft of innovative products and a “widely recycled” label for aluminium foilIt wasn’t all plain sailing, though, as high energy and raw material costs continued to hit.
But the sector’s focus on sustainability seems to be paying dividends and, indeed, metal packaging took the news that the Government was considering raising recycling targets for steel and aluminium comfortably in its stride. So, why is this and what kind of health is the metal packaging sector in?
The MPMA points out that, in the UK, metal packaging is holding its own against other formats and remains popular with consumers as can be seen, for example, from the 4% increase in the volume ofcanned vegetables sold. It’s a similar story in beverage cans – some 9.5bn cans were produced in 2011, a 4% increase on 2010
“The growth is attributable to a number of factors, including significant changes to the pack architecture with many more eightpacks sold and growth in sales of single cans,” according to Mark Bunker, sector communications manager at Rexam. “There is also the continued shift towards at-home consumption where single serve is of great convenience.”
To meet the demands of a highly competitive market, the major players have rolled out a wealth of format sizes, closures and designs in the course of the past year, such as Ball’s Handy Can 250ml format for PepsiCo and Ardagh’s Optilift closureIn terms of sales it’s a positive picture. The same is true for theenvironment. There were major developments in 2011 on recycling schemes such as Every Can Counts, Metal Matters and Aerofoil. Then, in December, the Government proposed new, tougher recycling targets for aluminium and steel – 55% and 76% respectively by 2017. The industry view is that these targets are achievable and fall within the sector’s own target that, by 2020, 80% of all metal packaging should be recycled. To an extent, focusing on the recycling rate will be a good thing for the sector.
“Metal’s challenge is to gain a broader understanding of its particular sustainability features,” says MPMA’s Mullen. “For metal, it’s the rate of recycling, rather than recycled content, which reflects the reduction in raw materials, energy and emissions.”
Wrap has now recognised this and it is included in the PAS 2050 specification for assessing life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions. The MPMA view is backed up by packaging steel producer ThyssenKrupp Rasselstein, which claims that scrap metal is almost always used when producing steel. “Packaging steel scrap is a sought-after input material for the steel industry and helps to save precious resources as well as carbon dioxide emissions,” says market communications manager Nicole Regnery. “The complete absence of any downcycling effect, together with large amounts of primary material and energy saved, make recycling of packaging steel highly efficient.”
There is a strong business argument for improving the recycling rates for metal packaging, particularly as the sector continues to be hit by high input costs. But is too much onus being put on UK packaging firms, despite all their efforts? The Government said that the new targets would “give a new incentive to companies to cut down on excess packaging and increase efforts to have their materials recycled” and it has been suggested that packaging firms could end up having to foot more of the billThis would seem to be an unfair extra cost to firms that are already heavily involved in recycling.
“The metal industry has invested millions of pounds in recycling infrastructure and initiatives, and continues to support practical solutions,” says MPMA’s Mullen. However much the industry is involved, the major change in habits required is clearly the responsibility of a number of players.
“While programmes such as Every Can Counts have been initiated and paid for by the industry, we are dependent on the behaviour of the consumer,” says Rexam’s Bunker. “The industry can only be a part of the overall education programme for consumers and it’s for the whole of society to reflect on how it can act more sustainably.”
This view is picked up by Ball Packaging Europe. Sylvia Bloemker, director of public relations, adds: “The targets are only achievable when we continue to work with local authorities and industry organisations to make consumers aware of the benefits of recycling and provide as many opportunities as possible to actually return used packaging into the recycling process.”
Industry is, to some extent, already involved in consumer education and its actions can clearly bear fruit. Trials for the MetalMatters drive found that well-defined, targeted campaigns can make a major contribution to boosting recycling rates, while the Aerofoil programme has helped bring kerbside collections for aerosols to 83% of councils across the UK. Work is also being done with Ardagh to support local authorities in encouraging households to recycle metal paint cans. The industry is also keen to point out that the environment is a global issue, with global responsibilities; a particularly important factor given that the large metal packaging firms serve a global market. Improved recycling rates in the UK, for example, will help contribute towards meeting the European target of 75% of beverage cans to be recycled by 2015.
Ball’s Bloemker says: “We have a commitment to increase recycling rates in every country where we do business, as part of our sustainability strategy.”
While European targets seem achievable, it is debatable whether pan-European policies on waste collection would be possible, or even desirable. A report into deposit collections by Eunomia Research and Consulting that was published in November found that “the costs are likely to exceed benefits by some margin”.
Indeed, part of the problem, as Rasselstein’s Regnery points out, is that “markets, consumer behaviour and waste management systems differ much from each other”Getting a scheme to suit a particular country is, therefore, vitally important. A deposit scheme for drinks cans in Germany, for example, did not have a significant impact (the country had already achieved 80% can recycling) and, in some cases, damaged a wellfunctioning market. The consistently improving metal recycling rates would suggest that the packaging industry is contributing to ways that work for the UK.
“With six out of 10 cans recycled, the material is easily collected, separated and reprocessed at source – all metal collected is recycled and the industry has a vision of no cans being sent to landfill,” says MPMA’s Mullen.
How long it will take to get there remains to be seen, but the numbers for 2011 underline how metal packaging businesses are being successful and playing a leading role on the environment. And it confirms that every can counts.
Key challenges for metal
Efforts to raise metal’s environmental profile continue apace, through schemes such as Every Can Counts and Aerofoil. The task now is to convey the message that, for metal, the rate of recycling is a more important metric than recycled content in terms of reflecting reductions in raw materials, energy and emissions.
The increasing raw material and energy costs continue to be a bugbear for the sector and force the industry to remain focused on efficiencies in its operations. Particularly in difficult economic times, the ability to offset these costs is crucial.
Serving the highly competitive FMCG markets, and in particular the alcoholic and soft drinks sectors, means that firms are having to offering more and more tailored, individualised products and an ever-increasing range of sizes.
Metal in numbers
9.5bn Number of beverage cans produced in the UK in 2011
95% Percentage of energy invested in production that is reused when a can is recovered
51m Number of used beverage cans collected from participating workplaces and on-the-go stations involved in the Every Can Counts scheme
80% Metal packaging industry’s targeted recycling rate for 2020
The year in metal packaging
March Ardagh Group completes €85m purchase of aerosol and bottle producer Boxal
February Hotcan-maker Heat Food and Drink moves to new manufacturing site
January Novelis plans $50m investment in Brazilian beverage can operations
December Aluminium foil receives “widely recycled” label following Aerofoil campaign success
November Crown publishes sustainability report highlighting green achievements
October Coca-Cola becomes member of Alupro
September PepsiCo and Britvic launch 250ml cans in the UK
August Rexam considers European investment opportunities after profit boost
July Molson Coors adopts aluminium bottles in £7.3m rebrand for Carling, Caffreys and Coors
July Red Bull becomes the first brand to back Every Can Counts recycling scheme
June Can-Pack secures deal to produce cans for Wells Bombadier
May Ardagh Group plans US stock market listing