When it comes to sustainability metrics, metal continues to lead the pack. The material is more inherently responsible and eco-friendly than any other packaging substrate, making it a choice that brands, investors, consumers and environmental advocacy groups can feel good about.
Here are just a few ways metal contributes to a more sustainable future:
Circular Economy Champion
The Circular Economy is based on three principles:
- Eliminate waste and pollution
- Circulate products and materials
- Regenerate nature
The Circular Economy model eliminates the concept of waste, constantly cycling materials back through the value chain for re-use. The model requires less energy, preserves natural resources, reduces emissions, and can also produce long-term savings as less resources are used.
In every aspect, our primary materials - steel and aluminum - are inherently circular. At their origin, they respectively represent more than 5% and 8% of the earth’s crust, ranking them among the most abundant resources in the world (source).
These natural elements maintain their properties forever. In other words, once metal enters the material-to-material loop, where it gets recycled again and again, allowing the same beverage can to be re-used up to six times per year.
This constant reuse into new containers or other metal products saves raw materials and energy and reduces CO2 emissions.
- 80% of all aluminum ever produced is still available for use today (source).
- Once produced, metal never needs to be downgraded to less demanding uses after recycling. Metal boasts a 60-day turnaround from point of consumption to appearing back on the shelf (source).
- 100% of metal scrap created in the production process is recycled back into production (source).
We are taking a more active role in guiding the material through its closed-loop system successfully—time and time again. Because metal is an infinite material that has no limitations for recycling and reproduction, its availability for future use is almost strictly dependent on how well it is captured and reused over time.
World Leader in Recycling Rates
With the future availability of materials crucial to the success of consumer-packaged goods brands, it is important for packaging to have an efficient, continuous lifespan. Aluminum and steel, by their very nature, can be recycled at high effectiveness and can be repeatedly reused to form new consumer packaging with no degradation in performance, quality, or safety. Recycling metal also helps reduce the use of Earth’s resources and the level of greenhouse gas emissions used in subsequent production.
Consumers recycle aluminum cans at more than double the rate that they recycle plastic bottles. Today, 84% of steel packaging (source) and 76% of aluminum beverage cans are recycled in Europe (source). The U.S. has achieved recycling rates of nearly 60% for aluminum (source) and nearly 74% for steel packaging (source).
However, consumers can lack access to recycling infrastructure both publicly and privately and are often unaware of proper recycling measures keeping metal from reaching its full potential for recycling efficacy, particularly in the U.S.
This is why, in 2020, Crown established our Twentyby30 initiative, a Company-wide program to bring our sustainability performance to the next level. Through the introduction of our Optimum Circularity pillar, we recently set new global recycling targets to help goals to increase the recycled content and recycling rate of our products.
With well-established recycling infrastructure for metal packaging around the world coupled with educating our consumers about the sustainable qualities of metal and how they can do their part to ensure the material makes its way through the recycling stream, we can take an active role in encouraging high recycling rates.
- Metal is the most recycled beverage package in the world, at an average global rate of 69% (source)
- Recycling an additional 71 million aluminum cans a year could provide:
- Over $1.15 million in revenue for the U.S. recycling system
- Increased energy savings that could power more than 28 million American homes for one hour (source)
- Recycling aluminum saves more than 90% of the energy needed to make new aluminum (source)
We are also working with our suppliers and other industry partners to maintain or improve the industry-wide recycled content average. This includes helping to fund can capture equipment for material recovery facilities to ensure more used beverage cans make it through the recycling process successfully (link to latest CMI MRF news).
Strong Fighter Against Food Waste
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, one third of all the food produced in the world each year — more than 1.3 billion metric tons — is wasted, representing 3.3 billion metric tons in annual carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, if global food waste were represented as a standalone country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases globally behind China and the U.S. (source).
Thus, when addressing food waste, it is critical to consider the packaging. Packaging — and metal packaging, in particular — are essential for two reasons: metal can make a considerable difference in overcoming food insecurity while touting its inherent environmentally friendly credentials.
Metal packaging has a natural advantage where food waste reduction is concerned: Cans preserve their contents, help products achieve long shelf lives, and can better protect products throughout the entire supply chain process. Once the packaging process is complete, it is the metal can that most effectively continues to preserve the food it contains. Foods typically degrade through extended exposure to external influences like air or sunlight; however, metal is the only container material that completely prevents light and oxygen from infiltrating the package, offering excellent barrier properties, and extending product life.
The other key element of metal packaging resides in its natural sustainability. In addition to the various ways cans can reduce food waste, metal is infinitely recyclable without loss of properties, helps greenhouse gases it generates, and saves a considerable amount of energy in transport and storage when compared to fresh or frozen products.
- Packaging produce in metal cans rather than packing it for refrigeration or freezing saves over 1 billion liters of food per year.*
- If the entire fruit and vegetable supply in the U.S. was canned, rather than packaged for refrigeration or freezing, an estimated 7 million metric tons of food would be saved. That is equivalent to about 22 million metric tons of CO2.*
Unlike any other packaging substrate, metal offers fundamental benefits that will maintain its position as the package of choice across multiple categories, including beverage, food, and personal care. These innate benefits of metal make it an ideal weapon to combat food waste.
For additional information about the sustainability of metal packaging, visit our 2021 Sustainability Report.
*Source: “Effects of Metal Packaging on Energy and Food Waste” – University of Delaware and CROWN Packaging Technology