The drinks can is increasingly becoming the consumer’s drink pack of choice, with the growth of the craft beer movement in recent years, and now soft drinks, playing a key role in changing the general perception of the can’s value and aesthetics. Consumer needs are changing as more people are looking for convenient, yet easily recyclable, packaging. The environmental impact of packaging is becoming more prevalent in the public’s consciousness with many new drinks brands addressing these concerns – using cans as an alternative to plastic bottles because of the environmental story has been delivering for years.
The Circular Economy, the idea where resources are used, recovered and then regenerated, is very much on the radar right now as one of the European Commission’s 2017 stated key priorities. Metals, as a uniquely Permanently Available Material (PAM), are well placed to contribute to ever increasing recovery rates as they can be easily recycled to make new products and materials again and again – forever. But why does this matter and how well are metals, like the aluminium in drinks cans, placed to make a major contribution to the Circular Economy?
Already by 2016 seven out of every ten aluminium drink cans sold in the UK are recycled. This 70% milestone, recently announced by Alupro, makes a major contribution to the European metal packaging sector’s own ambition to reach and exceed an average 80% metal packaging recycling rate by 20201. This exceeds the EU’s targets as the industry believes it can increase rates more quickly than the average across all pack formats.
The European Commission’s Circular Economy Package (CEP) sets common targets to increase recycling and therefore ultimately stop precious materials going to landfill. There are many goals helping to drive the circular economy including a common EU target for recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030; and a binding landfill target to reduce landfill to a maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030. There are also economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market, and support recovery and recycling schemes.
Aluminium and steel can be recycled again and again without losing any of their structural integrity – known as ‘real’ recycling. With most other materials there’s a limit to how often they can be recycled to the same quality without adding new raw material to the mix.
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. Metal is unalterable structurally, technically speaking it is an element, and that’s what makes it an ideal building block for a circular economy.
So, their endless recyclability makes drinks cans a valuable material source for reintroduction into the economy to make new cans or other products, such as kettles or engine components. That’s why we call the metals in drinks cans a Permanently Available Material, and what could be more sustainable than permanent? It also happens to be the perfect packaging solution to help the UK reach the EU’s Waste Framework Directive target of a minimum of 50% of all household waste to be reused and/or recycled by 2020.
Every Can Counts
It is important to understand that thanks to existing recycling: 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in use today. It’s also good to know that recycling metals saves between 70% and 90% of the energy used to produce new production quality metals.
Many industry-supported recycling schemes across Europe are encouraging and educating consumers to recycle even more. Industry co-funded campaigns Every Can Counts and MetalMatters are great examples. These are Government recognised, long standing campaigns that encourage more businesses and consumers to recycle cans whether at work, at home or out and about. And they have made an impact, to date, the home scheme MetalMatters campaigns have been delivered in 81 local authorities across the UK, and have directly targeted over 5.3 million households. Aluminium drink can recycling reached a ‘milestone’ 70% recycling rate in 2016 in the UK.
Metal Recycles Forever
Metal Packaging Europe (MPE) has been busy drawing attention to the continuous lifecycle of metal with a recycling mark, and message, for drinks cans – Metal Recycles Forever. The infinity loop image is designed to engage consumers and remind them of the value of continuously recycling metal.
Permanent materials are the ideal building blocks for a circular economy, with both packagers and drinks brands reaping the rewards from their increased use, whilst working towards a more sustainable, innovative and economically efficient Europe.