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Can-do attitude: Recycling of steel food containers on the rise

Recycling of steel food packaging is on the rise in North America, according to Crown.
Recycling of steel food packaging is on the rise in North America, according to Crown.

Steel recycling rates in North America have rocketed from 15% in 1988 to 71% in 2012, according to Crown.

While the presence of flexible food packaging is increasing, metal food cans still are found in a majority of consumer households.

Performance packaging

Hella Gourven, marketing manager for Crown Food Packaging North America, told FoodProductionDaily steel food packaging leads combines performance and sustainability.

In addition to being 100% recyclable, steel can be used again and again with no loss in performance or quality, which contributes to the high recycling rate of steel food cans,” he said. “The European Union recently listed metal as a Permanent Resource in new legislation, recognizing steel cans never need to be downgraded to less demanding uses after recycling.”

Material conservation

In 2012, North Americans recycled more than 1.3m tons of tinplate steel, the equivalent of 21bn new steel food cans, Crown documented in its 2013 Sustainability Report. A container composed of recycled steel, according to the company, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 75% compared to a package made with new steel.

Additionally, each ton of recycled steel conserves 2,500 lbs. of iron ore, 1,400 lbs. of coal, and 120 pounds of limestone, the Steel Recycling Institute reports. In 2012 alone, stepped-up steel recycling saved the energy equivalent to power 20m households for an entire year.

Container lightweighting

In addition to increased recycling rates, metal packaging firms are making strides in lightweighting, according to the report. For example, crown has launched resilient rail technology enabling thinner-gauge metal to be used in cans with no reported decline in container performance.

Further, packaging engineers have come up with double-reduced steel technology for food ends with updated panel designs and score profiles, which are said to create thinner full aperture ends with increased openability. Such engineering innovations enable food firms to produce more cans with less material, and reduce shipment weight and transportation costs.

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