June 2022
International Organisation of Aluminium Aerosol Container Manufacturers

Commentary of Gregor Sengler, AEROBAL Secretary General

Aluminium aerosol can industry facing a host of sustainability challenges

Legislators, customers and consumers are unanimously asking for more sustainable packaging solutions with an improved carbon footprint. Therefore, in the coming years, the decarbonisation of industries worldwide and improved sustainability of products will stay at the top of everybody’s agenda.

Aluminium aerosol can producers are taking up the challenge. In general, aluminium is an enabler to reach this goal because it is almost endlessly recyclable without any loss in quality. Aluminium aerosol can manufacturers will make efforts to increasingly use low carbon or recycled aluminium for their products and renewable energies in their production processes. In addition, further downgauging of the cans and corresponding material savings as well as the use of environmentally friendly coating and printing ink systems will further contribute to the optimization of the carbon footprint of aluminium aerosols. In this context, further downgauging of containers, without compromising on the safety of the final product, is not only environmentally driven but also in the economic interest of can producers. With regard to the use of recycled materials, it is important that material streams are efficiently traced back to convincingly prove the amount of recycled material used in order to avoid any greenwashing.

Coupled with a determined design for recycling of brand owners, the best possible sustainability performance can be achieved.

Legislators are raising the bar for the packaging industry

In Europe, several challenges will come from the legislator through the revision of the European Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD). Originally, a first draft was supposed to be presented by the EU Commission in summer 2022, however it is likely that the publication will be delayed. Several changes on the essential requirements on packaging are currently under discussion which would also affect the aluminium aerosol can industry.

Consumer acceptance

Consumer acceptance shall be eliminated from the catalogue of criteria in order to focus more intensively on environmental aspects. However, in the cosmetics market, for example, design and the appeal of packaging play an important role for the consumer in his buying decision. In general, can shaping requires the use of more material input compared to standard cans. This raises the question whether the elimination of the consumer acceptance criterion would lead to a simplification of packaging in general and thus also of aluminium aerosols. In any case, the big challenge will be to produce a minimum of packaging with maximum shelf impact.

Prevention targets

During the revision process randomly chosen prevention targets were also discussed; for example, a 2 percent target for metal packaging. These kind of prevention targets might conflict with safety requirements which are of paramount importance for pressurized aluminium aerosols. Better measures to generally reduce the material input are, for example, reasonable fee modulations in Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) systems and tax incentives or CO2-bonuses for the use of recycled materials to give an economic incentive to reduce the material input and to achieve better recyclability and a higher recycled material content in packaging.

Promotion of reuse and refill systems

Another hot topic in the discussion about the revision of the PPWD is the promotion of reuse and refill systems. Reuse and refill systems would be a huge challenge for pressurized containers. However, from an environmental point of view reuse and refill systems should only be promoted, if these systems are environmentally more beneficial based on corresponding life cycle analyses and if functionality, hygiene and product safety are not compromised. And in the end, reuse and refill systems also have to be recyclable at the end of their lifetime. The demand for refill or reuse systems, which is already fired by several retailers, also offers opportunities for attractive and endlessly recyclable aluminium bottles with tailor-made dispensing systems. These containers are produced with the same impact extrusion technology as aluminium aerosol containers.

Definition of recyclability

What is urgently needed in the revised PPWD is a clear definition of recyclability. In this context, several minimum requirements such as the availability of efficient collection, sorting and recycling technologies and infrastructures are crucial. Today, the eddy current and the pyrolysis technology already ensure efficient sorting and recycling of aluminium packaging. Nevertheless, the improvement of sorting technologies is an important challenge to ensure alloy-oriented recycling. This would allow to increasingly close the material or product loop and to improve the availability and quality of recycled materials to achieve a higher recycled material content in products. Finally, a consistent design for recycling by packaging producers and brand owners is essential which would in the case of aluminium aerosols also mean that aluminium valves should be used for aluminium cans instead of tinplate valves in order to limit the number of different materials used.

Recycled content quotas

It seems that the inclusion of mandatory recycled content quotas in the revised PPWD are currently only discussed for plastic packaging. The EU Commission has mentioned that they do not see the need for such a quota for glass and metal packaging. But this topic and the availability of high-quality recycled materials might be picked up again in general in the discussions about an implementation guideline for the PPWD.

The above-metioned sustainability- and legislation related topics demonstrate that these multiple challenges require intelligent and comprehensive solutions of the aluminium aerosol can industry which can only be achieved through a close cooperation with the supply chain partners.