Metal Packaging in a Circular Economy…

Nick Mullen for the Can Makers

As we have all seen, the EU intends to present a new package of circular economy proposals which will be ‘more ambitious’ and cover ‘the whole of the circular economy’. Ambitious indeed, but in a world focussing on resource efficiency, not entirely surprising.

The process of keeping resources within the economy, when a product has reached the end of its life to be productively used again, is at the core of metal production. Aluminium and Steel cans returned to the process will preserve all of the material and up to 95% of the energy used to make the original and in three months could return as another can or be part of a Boeing 747.

Defining the sustainable attributes of materials has traditionally been confined to the simple premise of ‘renewable’ or ‘non-renewable’; however in 2011, BSI published a standard which recognised an additional characteristic – Permanently Available Material. A permanent material is such that its inherent properties do not change despite repeated recycling into new products and in this process does not necessarily require the addition of primary material or additives.

What does this mean for drinks cans? Put simply, each and every can should be recycled in the knowledge that if it gets back into the process the materials will be used. It is good news therefore that the can is the most recycled drinks pack in the world and our collective task is to ensure that used cans do not escape from the process.

Whilst doubt still exists with some consumers, increasingly we can see a recognition of the benefits of recycling but we do need to encourage and remind everyone at the point of use and that is what Metal Packaging Europe is aiming to do with its new recycling mark

METAL Recycles Forever logo

Recently launched, early feedback has been very positive in that both ‘keen recyclers’ and ‘reluctant recyclers’ agree the message ‘METAL recycles forever’ together with the symbol is providing clearer information to consumers.

Encouraging positive behaviour is also behind our other industry initiatives – Metal Matters and Every Can Counts working with local councils to promote kerbside recycling and with large organisations, retail parks and events to promote recycling out of home.  Through their work, and that of the wider industry, the overall recycling rate for aluminium beverage cans across the EU has now reached 69.5% and the sector has an ambition to reach a recycling rate of 80% by 2020.

But we are also asking administrators and regulators to understand and recognise this aspect of circularity – using the material of the future in a highly efficient pack format, posing the question – what can be more sustainable than permanent?

Nick Mullen is Director & Chief Executive of the Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA) which supports and represents members’ interests on industry matters relating to operational, regulatory and environmental issues, and promotes the benefits and sustainable attributes of steel and aluminium packaging.

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