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Silver is the new green.

Consumer perception of the metal can is highly positive. Canned food and beverages are seen as a time-tested and highly dependable method safely and efficiently packaging products consumed on a daily basis.

Cans stack easily on store shelves, fit neatly into refrigeration units and are easy to store. For the beverage market, cans offer an additional advantage in that they chill quickly and stay cold longer. But the can also possesses some unique environmental advantages that many consumers are less aware of.

Metal packaging doesn't just hold its own against other forms of packaging in terms of recyclability--it excels. Furthermore, food and beverage brand managers can take advantage of the many brand-building technologies in metal packaging while leveraging the can's inherently environmentally friendly properties.

More material can be efficiently and profitably recycled from a single metal can than from any other form of packaging widely available today. For food and beverage suppliers, this is an important point to leverage with consumers. The can is a important icon communicating value, product quality and stability. It can also help brands to bridge the gap between stoic icon and progressive change.

MATERIAL MATTERS. How is the can the ultimate in environmental packaging? Let's start with the material itself. The metal used in cans (either aluminum or steel) is a renewable material and can be recycled infinitely with no degradation in quality.

While other materials promote recycling, there is a limit to the number of times such recycled materials can be transformed into a new package that is suitable for use with food or beverage products. In fact, the use of many recycled packaging materials, including plastics and paper, is restricted because of degradation and must instead find homes in less demanding and less valuable industrial applications.

However, the aluminum and steel used to manufacture cans are recycled again and again and are used to create new, high-integrity packaging.

Metal cans also enjoy material and design simplicity, making them more efficient in their initial construction and through the recycling process. In most can production facilitates, cans begin as flat pieces of metal. Depending on production processes, that flat piece of metal is transformed through mechanical manipulation into a can.

With the exception of some coatings and decoration, cans are constructed from one, consistent material (coatings burn away quickly in the metal recycling process and contribute to energy savings). This material simplicity makes the recycling process less complicated and more efficient and lessens the overall environmental impact of not just the can itself, but the energy it takes to recycle the can.

For example, producing aluminum from recycled used beverage containers takes only 5 percent of the energy required to produce aluminum from virgin material. In other words, it is actually less expensive and takes less energy to produce a can from recycled metal than it does to produce a can using mined raw material.

The production simplicity and high value retention of metal cans post-recycling has made the recycling of cans a more environmentally friendly--and a very profitable--endeavor. In fact, most recycling centers have traditionally funded their costly plastic recycling with proceeds from recycling metal packaging.

The process of can recycling is not only simpler but it yields a higher-value product. Finances ultimately decide altruism, and the perception of cans as an environmentally friendly package will be driven by it also being friendly to the bottom line.

Of course, these facts are ultimately proven in results. The cans reputation as an environmentally friendly package is built by the food and beverage industry and the consumers they serve. The good news is that recycling is on the rise for cans throughout the world.

For example, in the United States, the world's largest beverage can market, the recycling rate for aluminum cans is roughly 51 percent, according to statistics released by the Aluminum Association, the Can Manufacturers Institute and Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries for 2004.

In contrast, PET bottles posted a recycling rate of roughly 22 percent in 2004, according to figures from NAPCOR (National Association for PET Container Resources).

Around the world, recycling rates for beverage cans are even higher than that of the United States, depending on the influence of regional factors. In Brazil the rate is greater than 80 percent. In Europe, cans have established an excellent recycling record at greater than 60 percent on average. Rates in Germany and the Netherlands are greater than 80 percent, and in Scandinavia and Belgium, the figure jumps to more than 90 percent. All of these figures are slated to increase as momentum for can recycling grows and the economic realities of can recycling scale up.

Efficiency, profitability and sustainability are often cited as hallmarks of environmental policies and practices. Governments, private institutions and consumers around the world are increasingly demanding packaging that is environmentally friendly. The can presents a unique opportunity for food and beverage suppliers to give consumers a familiar and even an iconic form of packaging that is also the clear environmentally preferable packaging material of choice.

EYE ON INNOVATION. Can technology has also advanced significantly and, today, more innovative technologies are available to food and beverage suppliers that offer more eye-catching shelf appeal, greater convenience and more innovation. For instance, Crown Holdings Inc., Philadelphia, offers shaping technology that has been used by brands such as Heineken and Crosse & Blackwell, one of Premier Foods' leading canned food brands.

Advancements in easy-open technology are continuing to be enhanced, offering consumers great convenience and taking the can out of the kitchen cupboard and into the busy on-the-go lives that most of us live today.

For the food and beverage industry, these new technologies combined with an excellent environmental profile mean that the can offers the best of both worlds: an efficient, appealing and trusted package with a number of very advantageous environmental traits. Communicating this to end consumers can only benefit the entire industry. Food and beverage suppliers can work with suppliers to communicate the value of the can as a compatible to environmental "best practices."

As trends in recycling grow, the metal can also represents a sustainable component that can be supported by the entire supply chain. This is important because, while consumers demand environmentally sound packaging, they also demand value. The can is an effective means of delivering both.

The author is vice president of corporate affairs and public relations far Crown Holdings Inc. and can be reached at mdunleavy@crowncork.com.

INSIDER INFORMATION

Food and beverage cans are iconic packages recognized worldwide. But their popularity can mask many of the very real benefits of this highly efficient form of packaging.

Below are some facts about metal packaging and its recyclability, courtesy of the Can Manufacturers Institute and Beverage Can Makers Europe:

* Used aluminum cans are recycled and returned to a store shelf as a new can in as few as 60 days. That means a consumer could purchase basically the same recycled aluminum can from a retailer's shelf nearly every nine weeks, or six times per year

* The average U.S. individual consumes 2.5 cans of soda daily at work. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television for three hours.

* 140 cans are produce each second.

* The energy saved each year through recycled cans could light a city the size of Washington, D.C., for 3.7 years.

* Recycling aluminum creates 97 percent less water pollution than producing new metal from ore.

* It takes only 670 recycled cans to make a bicycle.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:metal cans usage growth and recycling forecast and trends
Author:Dunleavy, Michael
Publication:Recycling Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Words:1246
Previous Article:Talk of the town: recyclers gathered in Vegas in early April for the ISRI 2006 Convention & Exhibition.
Next Article:Clearing the air: scrupulous scrap metal processors can work to overcome wider industry ethics issues.
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