Packaging strategies – is aluminum the answer?

81% of global consumers believe that companies should take steps to improve the environment

Every year, every person leaves behind an average of almost 560 kg of waste and if segregated packaging waste happens to be one of the major causes polluting the Earth, the negative impact of which can be felt on our natural resources. From damaging marine life and human health and littering of beaches and landscapes, to clogging of our landfills, packaging litter affects all of us. Though a lot is being done to achieve sustainability, the impact of the packaging pollution crisis is growing every day.

Can we do away with packaging? Certainly not. However, using sustainable packaging alternatives wherever possible is a viable solution to rescue ourselves from the ongoing and impending repercussions of packaging related waste and its effects. It is imperative for companies to gravitate towards sustainable packaging solutions that will help them move towards a circular and sustainable economy. Aluminum, for one, can serve as an excellent sustainable alternative to most of the current beverage packaging materials in use.

ET Edge Insights in its ongoing efforts to find solutions to the most difficult climate degradation crisis, speaks to Amit Lahoti, VP and GM, Ball Beverage Packaging

Almost all of us know of the consequences on the environment of using plastic packaging, yet it is unavoidable, a vital part of our everyday life – whether it means buying packaged water, food or drinks. Eliminating the packaging concept is not the solution. How can aluminum packaging help?

In the last few years, the world has seen a renewed concern with the undeniable fact that litter from packaging with limited recyclability is harming the planet. This has led to an urgent public debate about how to find sustainable packaging alternatives that move us toward a circular economy – one in which materials are not just used and thrown away but are reused or recycled endlessly. Aluminum beverage cans are the perfect example of a circular packaging solution as they can be recycled infinitely without any loss of quality. The reason they are the best alternative is that they have a much lower carbon footprint as compared to other packaging formats. A great proof of this is the fact that around 75% of all aluminum ever produced in the world is still in use today.

At its purest, ‘real circularity’ involves the continuous recovery and reuse of materials, with nothing lost during the process on economic terms that are not a tax to society. In terms of recycling, this means that all materials are properly collected and sorted, then each part of each product is separated out and fully recycled with minimum material loss, to become part of a product of similar value. Interestingly, a used aluminum beverage can, can be recycled and returned to the shelf within 60 days. This “design for circularity,” combined with high end-of-life economic value, makes recycling of cans viable, and should be the goal if we are to move from a –linear “take-make-waste” society toward a fully circular economy.

Why should aluminum be an alternative for packaging besides being environment safe?

The advantages of aluminum cans keep growing, as they have 73% recycled content[1] – the highest of any beverage package. Food-grade plastics, on the other hand, are ‘downcycled, as their quality degrades with each recycling process. On the other hand, aluminum can be recycled indefinitely without any major changes in quality.  Additionally, recycling aluminum is economical compared to plastics. Aluminum does not require the complicated sorting process before recycling. More so, the energy consumed during the recycling process is significantly less than that for plastics, leading to lower costs and reduced carbon emissions.

Besides being integral to brand equity and promotions, they are also economically viable for businesses that use them effectively for packaging their product. Aluminum cans are far more valuable than other packaging options, helping make municipal recycling programs financially viable and effectively subsidizing the recycling of less valuable materials in the bin. This is also one of the major reasons behind waste pickers collecting more aluminum cans for recycling when compared to other materials. Further, on a per liter beverage basis, emissions associated with transporting and cooling aluminum cans are 7 to 21% lower than plastic bottles and 35 to 49% lower than glass bottles.[2]

How is Ball making Aluminum Cans Better?

Ball Corporation supplies innovative, sustainable aluminum packaging solutions for beverage, personal care and household products customers, as well as aerospace and other technologies and services primarily for the U.S. government. As responsible citizens, we at Ball recently announced our 2030 sustainability goals focused on enhancing product stewardship and social impact to create value for stakeholders, together with a vision for how industry partners can collaborate to achieve a fully circular aluminum beverage packaging system. Our new global sustainability goals will drive performance across the life cycle of our products. This includes a strong commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions before 2050 and transitioning to 100% renewable electricity by 2030. Our goals also include ensuring all aluminum is purchased from certified sustainable sources and converting 80% of Ball’s global beverage can volumes to our lightweight STAR can designs.

Before we seek out new planets, we must make it a point to protect the one we live on. Despite the scale of the packaging pollution crisis, it’s clear that change is coming. Driven by consumer demand, companies are increasingly making sustainability a core value and a conspicuous part of their business. Our environment and the future of our planet depends on how effectively businesses implement ‘real circularity’. Sustainability, however, isn’t a one-person job; it needs the involvement of all stakeholders to take up the challenge and unleash a refreshing change to ensure a better world that is green and clean.



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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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