Metal packaging takes hold

Anurag Raj, customer sustainability business partner at PPG Packaging Coatings, published an article in Aluminum International Today on the role of coatings in the circular economy and sustainability.

Tags: Sustainability, Innovation, Technical Service, Beverage Packaging

The following article originally appeared in a print edition of 'Aluminium Today.' You can also clic​k here​ to read it.

Increased recycled aluminium demand has led to new aluminium-rolling capacity in the U.S. to supply the growing metal packaging industry. For instance, Novelis Inc. recently broke ground and began construction on its $2.5 billion recycling and rolling plant in Bay Minette, Alabama. Steel Dynamics Inc announced plans to build a recycled aluminium flat-rolled mill in Columbus, Mississippi.

The strong global aluminium packaging recycling rates drive the increased recycling capacity. According to Ball Corporation, the global recycling rate for aluminium beverage cans stands at 70%. Increasingly, leading industry bodies are establishing greater recycling goals. In fact, European Aluminium and Metal Packaging Europe launched a joint roadmap towards achieving 100% aluminium beverage can recycling by 2030. Comparatively, plastic packaging’s recycling rate stands at 8.7%, a statistic published by the Environmental Protection Agency and last updated for 2018. Compared to aluminium, plastic bottles, jars and other similar hard-to-collect, sort and recycle articles have a much lower recycling rate. Overall, aluminium’s homogenous material enables better recycling than plastics’ multi-layered and varied packaging.

Global aluminium packaging recycling also aligns with consumer demand. A recent global consumer survey reveals a market opportunity for household and personal care brands to diversify their packaging mix with aluminium to meet today’s consumers’ sustainability preferences and enable a circular economy. In response to greater consumer awareness of the environmental footprint of packaging, continued investor interest and innovations in metal packaging, major consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands are shifting to metal packaging. Coatings play a significant role in this transition.

Enabling circulatory and lightweight packaging

The Aluminum Association estimates that almost 75% of all aluminium produced in the U.S. is still in use today and that recycled aluminium saves 95% of the energy needed to make new aluminium. In addition, Metal Packaging Europe reports that no other beverage packaging can reach such high recycling rates while using so little primary material, resulting in product circularity and carbon emissions reductions.

Additionally, more brands are shifting their primary packaging to post-consumer recycled (PCR) content. While PCR offers environmental and economic advantages that support a circular economy, coatings innovation remains at the forefront of enabling even greater incorporation of recycled content into aluminium packaging. PCR’s unique surface characteristics and material properties require a comprehensive package of progressive coating solutions for continued product protection.

In addition to PCR, the industry focuses on optimising packaging weight, which can lower waste, decrease costs and enhance product function. Aluminium’s lightweight, stackable, and strong characteristics allow brands to package and transport more products using less material. And many consumers prefer lightweight designs over heavier glass and plastic bottles.

The great aluminium expansion and packaging trends

Today’s global beverage market expands, adapts and evolves at an accelerated rate. A recent study by Market Research Future estimates that the U.S. beverage can market alone will reach $32.93 billion by 2028. Consumer demand for new drink concepts is one market growth driver. These include ready-to-drink products, water, non-alcoholic beers, mocktails, coffees, energy drinks and nutrient- and herb-infused beverages. These drink products look to innovative packaging solutions that offer a distinctive design and sustainable packaging, such as recycled aluminium, to stand out in a crowded shelf space. Penrhos Spirits announced they would use new, fully recyclable aluminium bottles with their limited edition ‘Wonky Raspberry’ gin. The company expects its packaging to be made from 100% recycled aluminium, cutting energy requirements, packaging, transport and carbon footprint. Penrhos will launch the new bottle later in 2023.

Increasingly, cosmetics, personal care and household care brands are also realising the benefits of using aluminium packaging. In addition to recyclability and being lightweight, aluminium allows for a more modern design than plastic. The mono-material package allows a wide variety of logos, designs and functions, including eliminating adhesives and additional labels required with plastic packaging. Aluminium also offers a unique opportunity for brands to feature their personality. For instance, more brands turn to specialty finishes, such as matte and satin, as well as tactile and elaborate labels to bring their vision to life. By using diverse can sizes with a visual and textural surface, brands provide appealing visual and touch elements that create a memorable consumer experience.

One of the most interesting trends in cosmetic, personal, and household care packaging centres on refillable aluminium packaging driven by consumer demand for more environmentally responsible products. Unilever debuted a new line, Love Beauty and Planet, featuring shampoos and conditioners in reusable aluminium bottles to meet the needs of an evolving consumer base. Coatings innovation will continue to play a critical role in refillable aluminium packaging to protect substances from spoilage or quality degradation throughout the product’s entire shelf life.

The evolving role of coatings

Coatings advancements support industry trends toward a wider array of shapes and customised printing options to ensure products stand out despite increasingly crowded shelf space. They can add aesthetic and functional elements to packaging to help create visual and tactile experiences for the consumer and differentiate the brand.

In addition to the packaging design, coatings solutions enable a greater post-consumer recycled mix in packaging, support lightweight metal packaging, prevent abrasion or damage prevention of products during transit and protect the integrity of the product for consumer safety. Interior coatings advancements preserve the product, minimise coating migration, and comply with applicable global regulations. These innovative coatings must allow easy and reliable application in varying conditions, temperatures, and humidity in different plants worldwide.

An integrated coatings partner helps ensure improved production for can makers as more brands adopt aluminium packaging. Operational efficiency reduces waste and resource consumption, including power and water, maintains production speeds and minimises downtime and overall costs. For example, on a line running 2,000 to 4,000 cans every 60 seconds, detecting and eliminating even a few minutes of defective production can dramatically reduce waste, enhance production efficiency and increase good can output.

PPG’s Packaging Coatings technical services team works with customers in trailing and optimising new coatings on their lines for an efficient and smooth transition. Major brands and can makers are converting to PPG INNOVEL® PRO non-BPA technology for beverage cans. The complete removal of bisphenol starting substances from food-contact coatings aligns with PPG’s decades-long non-bisphenol strategy. Today, the technology has coated more than 220 billion cans in 40+ countries.

This upgrade results from years of research and customer feedback to ensure improved application properties and operational benefits for plants around the globe. PPG prescribes its PPG SAFEASSURE™ product development program for screening starting chemicals and those that could affect the packaged food or beverage to ensure new packaging technologies’ longevity and sustainability.

The right partner for the right solutions

More recycled aluminium plants will come online in the U.S. More brands will turn to metal packaging for its design and sustainability benefits. Coatings enhancements remain critical to enable this broader brand adoption to meet the increasing consumer demand and regulatory pressure for safe and sustainable packaging. Partnering with the right coatings solutions providers like PPG paves the way for on-trend, operationally efficient, innovative and sustainable metal packaging of the future.

About the Author

Anurag Raj is PPG’s Customer Sustainability Business Partner for Packaging Coatings. He is responsible for leading and supporting PPG’s and its customers’ sustainability targets. PPG’s Packaging Coatings business creates effective coating solutions for nearly all metal packaging end-use in the beverage, food, cosmetic, and personal care industries.

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