Viewpoint - Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging1 July 2014
Recent research into steel packaging indicates that the material is still leading recycling rates and is a top performer when it comes to eco-efficiency.Alexander Mohr, Secretary General of the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging, discusses the implications of the findings.
High recycling of steel is a cornerstone of the industry's sustainability practices and resource efficiency. Steel has maintained its
position as the most recycled packaging material in Europe, achieving a rate of 74%. The result is indicative of a sector that has
already closed the material loop. Each tonne of recycled steel saves 1.5 tonnes of CO², 1400 kilograms of iron ore, 120 kilograms of
limestone and 740 grams of coal.
The improvement in recycling rates across Europe has seen CO² emissions from steel production halved over the last 40 years and energy consumption has reduced by 45% over the same period. The Steel for Packaging industry wants to maintain this trend and has set its own vision of zero metal to landfill and a recycling rate objective of 80% by 2020. While the target is certainly achievable, especially when you consider the top 5 recycling countries in Europe already have an average steel recycling rate of 90%, legislators and key stakeholders need to start considering the next phase of recycling practices sooner rather than later.
It is vital that used steel is recognised as a resource and fed back into the economy. Indeed steel scrap is an inherent component of the steel manufacturing process. Some legislative approaches such as progressive landfill bans and numerous charity and governmental campaigns to create awareness among users across Europe are improving recycling.
Eco-efficiency and food waste Research conducted by The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), the results of which were also announced by APEAL at Interpack, has highlighted a global issue that the packaging industry as a whole is heavily involved in.
TNO analysed the performance of 600 grams of carrots and their packaging through their entire life cycle from food crop, picking,
packing to distribution, consumption and recycling. The study identified the comparable eco-efficiency of fresh, frozen and preserved
carrots, in steel cans, cartons, pouches and glass jars. The steel can is still one of the best performers and the most efficient rigid
packaging format by far. The impact of food waste on the results was significant. Fresh peeled carrots became less efficient, more
costly to the consumer and less sustainable when food waste was factored in.
Many countries are already seeking to reduce food waste through a variety of measures involving grocery retailers and food and drink
manufacturers. On a European scale, the European Commission is currently working with stakeholders, experts and Member States
to provide and analysis on how to reduce food waste without compromising food safety and discussing options for EU actions. The EU objective is to halve the volume of edible food waste currently disposed of by 2020.
Steel cans should begin to take up a larger share of a market in which shelf life and reducing food waste are prioritised. Steel is the only packaging material to offer a total barrier against light, gases and liquids, with the overall effect of protecting products and
prolonging shelf life. Steel packaging is also impact and puncture-resistant in the supply chain and single portion dispensing options
are already widely used, meaning that food loss and consumer waste is reduced.
There is a lot of work being carried out today by other packaging materials to match the inherent properties of steel. Much focus is on
extending shelf life to reduce spoilage or introducing a means of indicating when a product has gone off, or when a product is infected and must not be consumed. This is with good reason. There have been a number of food scandals in recent years, and a real risk persists when bacteria or chemicals get into food or even when chemicals get out of toxic or inflammable products.
A bright future for steel
I believe steel packaging is undergoing a revival. Underpinned by excellent recycling rates, unique aesthetic qualities, design
innovation and improvements in eco design, the steel packaging the industry will push on in the coming years. This will coincide with
brand owners and consumers becoming increasingly aware of the on shelf, preservative and environmental values steel packaging offers.