November 2022
International Organisation of Aluminium Aerosol Container Manufacturers

Commentary of Gregor Spengler, AEROBAL Secretary General

Environmentally and economically sustainable packaging – Aluminium aerosols have it all

Besides many burning problems worldwide due to the ongoing Corona crisis, the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, rising inflation and a looming recession in major economies worldwide, also sustainability stays high on consumers’, packaging producers’, brand owners’ and politicians’ agenda.

Therefore, competition between packaging (materials) for the most economically competitive and environmentally responsible packaging solutions is fierce to defend established and conquer new markets. Aluminium as a packaging material and aluminium aerosol cans as final products have a lot of convincing credentials to offer for all stakeholders.

Product protection, premium appeal and high value

Aluminium provides an optimal product protection thanks to its extraordinary barrier properties, thus preventing product waste. The reduction of product waste is all the more important because compared to the content, packaging represents only a minor share of the final product’s total carbon footprint. Moreover, compared with other materials, aluminium is corrosion resistant and shows no signs of material aging which also ensures a long product life.

It is a premium material with a special shine which provides an eye-catching, up-market appeal to the consumer securing the products’ success on the market. In the end, only those products who are finally bought by the consumer are also economically sustainable because otherwise they are going to disappear from the shelves.

Since aluminium has the highest scrap value of all packaging materials, there is a high financial incentive in the entire value chain to collect, sort and recycle it worldwide. In many countries recycling rates are already high. However, unfortunately there are still too many countries who are lagging behind. In these countries, investments in sophisticated collection, sorting and recycling technologies are needed to ensure that the material loop of aluminium is finally closed worldwide.

Resource efficiency and full recyclability

Aluminium is a sustainable material par excellence because it is fully recyclable without loss in quality. Unlike other materials, its inherent properties do not change through recycling. The energy required to recycle aluminium is about 5% of that needed for primary production, meaning that CO2 emissions are reduced by 95%, compared to average primary aluminium carbon emissions. Moreover, after its production, light-weight aluminium packaging saves energy during transport.

In the last few years, new aluminium alloys were developed by aluminium packaging producers together with their suppliers in order to achieve further lightweighting of the containers for better resource efficiency. In many cases this goes along with a corresponding adaptation of packaging producers’ production tools because the new alloys are stronger and therefore less easily malleable.

Limited availability of scrap and credible and transparent PCR claims

With regard to the use of more post-consumer recycled material in aluminium packaging, some aspects have to be born in mind. Today, only about 35 percent of total aluminium demand worldwide can be satisfied through recycled material. In addition, aluminium is often bound in long-lived applications (e.g. automobile, building industry) and therefore not available for recycling. Coupled with the continuously increasing demand for aluminium in the world markets, the bottleneck of scrap availability is here to stay. This gap between scrap supply and total demand for aluminium has to be filled through primary aluminium production.

Thus, the demand for a high recycled content in packaging faces the limiting factors of scrap scarcity in general and the required alloy specifications for the production of aluminium packaging.

Manufacturing aluminium packaging entirely or partly from pre- or post-consumer recycled aluminium is possible within the boundaries of material availability and scrap specification requirements. In this context, a transparent, complete and certified tracking and tracing of the recycled material used is paramount to avoid greenwashing.

Promising prospects

With sustainability and the prevention of product waste staying one of the key focal points of legislators, packaging producers, brand owners and consumers alike, demand for aluminium packaging in general is likely to increase due to its convincing functionality, marketing, sustainability and recycling credentials.

Legislators around the world will further push industry to reduce product waste and the carbon footprint of their products. Therefore, perfect barrier and easily recyclable materials such as aluminium offering utmost product protection with long shelf lives and endless recycling without any loss in quality will be customers’ first choice. Aluminium is an enabler to achieve the best of both worlds.