Claims from a well-known carton manufacturer surfaced recently making direct comparisons to cans; and on sustainability credentials in particular. If this was intended to rile, it worked. Well on me anyway!
But if it was intended to steal a march on steel (pun intended), it failed.
Because steel for packaging, cans, has the highest recycling rate of all packaging materials, 77.5 per cent according to the latest, independently verified figures from APEAL.
Cartons, by comparison, have a recycling rate of just 44 per cent.
But why do recycling rates matter?
Because while a pack may claim no end of recycling attributes, if there’s not an infrastructure in place to collect and actually recycle it, then they’re really not worth the packaging they’re printed on.
Put simply: if a pack can’t be recycled, it won’t be recycled.
The metal packaging industry has invested heavily in developing a collection and recycling infrastructure for decades. And it’s not just about incinerators and reprocessing plants. From highly visible consumer campaigns such as MetalMatters, which encourages kerbside collection, through to Every Can Counts which supports workplace, on-the-go and outdoor collection, metal is in a league of its own.
And it’s not just food and drink – metal paint cans meet the independently verified Widely Recycled kite mark criteria proving collection for recycling via HWRCs.
To a very great extent, recycling rates tell the real story of a pack’s sustainability, and this is the figure that brand owners and retailers should look to first.
Of course another great sustainability attribute for metal is its ‘permanently available’ status – now enshrined in BS 8905 – and highlighting that the material can be endlessly recycled with no loss of quality, making it a model material for the circular economy.
Cartons, by contrast, are essentially downcycled, not recycled – a linear material.
So my advice to any material looking to steal a march on steel? Check the recycling rates first.
APEAL is the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging). Methodology and data sources used by APEAL for the calculation of the recycling rates are independently audited and certified by energy and waste specialist consultancy, Eunomia.