Packaging has become a hot topic in recent years as drinks companies look for the best way to promote their products while meeting sustainability goals. Aluminium beverage cans, in particular, have been seen as a superior choice to other packaging formats – not just because of the extent to which they are recycled, but the durability and reusability of the material.

Last year, a report from Alupro, a non-profit representing aluminium recycling in the UK, showed that the recycling rate for aluminium drink cans was 72% in 2017, and could be as high as 85% in 2020. Also in 2018, the International Aluminium Institute stated that 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in productive use.

To find out if aluminium cans should be the sustainability material of choice moving forward, we spoke to Marcel Arsand, chairman of the Can Makers, a trade body representing can manufacturers in the UK.

Joe Baker: What sustainability benefits do cans offer over other packaging formats?

Marcel Arsand: Aluminium beverage cans are the most recycled beverage containers in the world, and therefore have numerous benefits when compared to other packaging.

From the consumer’s perspective, they are lightweight, shatterproof, quicker to chill and provide a total light barrier so the taste of their drink isn’t affected. Due to the size, they also provide great portion control, especially for the younger and more health conscious shopper of today.

For brand owners and retailers: cans are easily stackable with great cube efficiency, meaning less vehicles on the road and more cans on shelves. They also represent less fees in terms of producer responsibility.

For waste managers and re-processors, cans are easy and cheap to be sorted (all you need is an eddy current) and have a high intrinsic value. In fact, in the UK they subsidise the collection and recycling of the other packaging materials.

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JB: Can Makers’ mission is to show how metal packaging ‘contributes to the circular economy’ – can you explain what this means exactly?

MA: The old paradigm was about resource efficiency, focusing on light weighting and carbon, but now we are moving towards a true circular model and aluminium cans are very well suited for it.

Cans are made from a permanent material and can be recycled forever, meaning they don’t lose quality – there is no ‘downcycling’. Also, it is estimated that 80% of all aluminium ever produced is still in circulation today. Cans contribute to the economy as they have a high intrinsic value: one tonne of baled used aluminium beverage cans is worth around £1,000, and they are easy and cheap to be sorted too.

JB: Can Makers recently merged with the Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association – can you explain exactly how this merger will help when it comes to promoting cans as a sustainable option?

MA: By working more closely with the wider metal packaging industry we can provide an even stronger voice for our members and demonstrate why cans are a viable sustainable option for drinks makers, retailers and consumers alike more effectively. We will also be able to better coordinate and share our resources to promote metal as the most sustainable pack format.

JB: Have there been any major changes in the way cans are manufactured/the supply chain to make cans more sustainable? What further changes do you think could be made in the future?

MA: When you produce a pack format that is fit for purpose like an aluminium can it is always a challenge to take it to the next level. But that didn’t stop can makers and the supply chain pushing for more.

There are several initiatives looking at reducing water, gas and energy consumption as well as improving the recycling rates across Europe, which are currently 74%, with the aim to hit 90% in a few years. Some companies are also involved in the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative for responsibly produced and sourced aluminium.

JB: With products like ‘canned wine’ trending, do you think that more drinks companies could move towards using cans for their products in the future? What might persuade them to do this?

MA: Absolutely! Wine in a can is just one of the great examples of new categories that are adopting cans as their packaging of choice. Water, flavoured water, juices, iced teas, iced coffees, flavoured alcoholic beverage (like mojitos) are all benefiting from the great credentials offered by the can.

Why open a whole bottle of wine or even a large fizzy drink when you only want to drink one glass? Cans are perfect for individual servings and portion control. And it is all about giving customers alternatives.