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Brewing up success with steel packaging

With the advent of higher EU recycling targets and the increasing demand for sustainable yet innovative packaging, steel’s qualities will see its use grow in the beverage sector in the coming years

Alexander Mohr APEAL

The European beverage can industry has seen five years of consecutive growth with beverage can fillings up 2.8% in 2013 compared to the previous year. This growth makes it very apparent that cans continue to appeal and maintain a competitive position in the beverage sector. Qualities that make the can a highly efficient and economic pack to produce, fill and distribute, combined with its performance as a highly protective and preservative product, are proving increasingly appealing to drinks manufacturers across Europe.

Given the consistent growth of cans in the beverage market, it is vital that the qualities of all competing materials are fully appreciated. Earlier this year (May 2014), APEAL, the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging, launched its ‘Take a Fresh Look’, campaign at the Interpack packaging tradeshow in Dusseldorf. Since the launch of ‘Take a Fresh Look’ we have been encouraging all stakeholders, including those involved in the beverage supply chain, to consider the exceptional sustainability credentials of steel packaging and choose steel.

Two important announcements have followed the campaign’s launch which further highlight the credentials of steel and will influence these stakeholders even more.

During Interpack, steel was again confirmed as the most widely recycled packaging material in Europe. This was followed by the European Commission’s review of the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPWD) which has not only underlined the importance of recycling by proposing higher recycling targets for all materials, but has recognised the full potential of steel reaching a 80% target in 2025.

At APEAL we support higher recycling targets - an average of 74% of steel packaging is currently recycled in Europe and 6 EU countries already recycle more than 80% of steel packaging, the new PPWD target set to apply in 2025. It shows that reaching a higher overall target is feasible. We will continue to promote the benefits of steel as a highly recycled and sustainable packaging material across Europe, so that all EU member states can be brought up to the recycling level of today’s highest performers.


Steel is well positioned to meet the recycling targets proposed by the PPWD and the higher target set for steel serves to highlight the sustainability credentials of the material. Importantly for the beverage supply chain, everyone from brand owners to consumers are becoming increasingly aware of issues such as recycling rates, supply chain performance and resource use.

Efficient collection of used packaging remains an important consideration for the EU beverage sector and a lot of work is being done across Europe to boost the collection and recycling of all packaging including those consumed out of the home. It’s important that all schemes focus on keeping valuable resources in the material loop. For steel, each item of recycled steel saves over twice its weight in raw materials, one and a half times its weight in emissions and requires 70% less energy in manufacturing. Over the last 40 years the constant improvement in recycling rates across Europe has seen CO2 emissions from steel production halved and energy consumption reduced by 45%.  And as a permanent material that recycles forever, steel can be recycled again and again without loss of inherent qualities.

APEAL is a firm believer in advocating respect for the environment and ensuring efficient collection and recovery schemes in order to drive greater recycling rates. Steel will always have a natural advantage due to its magnetic qualities which make it easy to sort and recover. In many European countries, well-established routes for collection and recovery have underpinned the leading recycling performance of steel for many years.

Moreover, it is vital that a sufficient amount of recycled steel is provided to ensure a sustainable stream of material to support the manufacturing sector. Steel scrap is an inherent part of the production process for new steel, so all steel plants are also recycling plants. As such scrap can be recycled locally across the EU, making a valuable contribution to regional economies.

It is also important that the beverage industry recognises the greater strength, resistance to puncturing and protective qualities offered by steel as this reduces product damage and loss through the supply chain.

Steel’s robustness compared with other materials has significant implications for drink manufacturers, logistics companies and fillers and, perhaps more importantly, feeds into their sustainability performance. Every wasted or damaged product means that the resources, such as the energy, water and fuel that went into making and transporting the product are also lost.   

Innovation in steel for packaging production means that we are using less material and thus fewer resources than ever before. In recent years, manufacturers of steel for packaging have developed a new generation of advanced steels that can offer the strength and formability to reduce the thickness of cans and make them more lightweight. The weight of a 33 cl steel beverage can is approximately 40% lighter today than 40 years ago.


Importantly steel’s offering is not limited to its sustainability. The desirability combined with the perceived quality that steel provides is something that designers and brand owners will benefit from in the beverage market.

The intrinsic appearance of steel continues to be considered by designers as a premium feature when creating labels. This can be coupled with tactile finishes that use matt inks or embossing to create a distinctive aesthetic and tangible quality which enhances shelf appeal and builds an affinity with the consumer.

Some of the largest global brands have become very adept at using eye-catching limited-edition steel designs to drive sales. Collaborations between brands which package some of their products in steel cans and renowned fashion designers are well publicised. Luxury brands such as the big champagne houses and whisky producers have long understood that secondary steel packaging adds value to their products and enables them to stand out on a crowded shelf.

Increasing interactivity is another area where brands are focusing their attention in order to deliver a post-purchase consumer interaction with a product. Fluorescent coatings can easily be applied to steel, as can thermochromic and thermodynamic inks which change colour or go transparent at different temperatures. These provide steel packaging with an interactive quality which is vital in a retail environment where consumers are increasingly seeking to engage with products and brands on a more personal and social level.

The future

There is no doubt that alternative packaging formats will continue to pursue the development of features and technologies to equal the long shelf-life, total barrier, and preservation qualities that are inherent to steel. For consumers, in addition to being increasingly aware of what they consume and their impact on the environment, want packaging they can trust to be hygienic and safe.

The Steel for Packaging industry must work to develop beverage brand owners’ understanding of the full scope of steel packaging. At the same time the supply chain must work to convey these messages consistently and effectively as part of mutually beneficial relationships where increased consumer trust and affinity with steel drives sales.

With excellent recycling rates, unique aesthetic qualities and the drive for more sustainable manufacturing, I believe steel packaging has the potential to take a larger share of the beverage market. We must continue to encourage brand owners, beverage manufacturers, retailers and consumers to “Take a Fresh Look” at the on-shelf, preservative and environmental value that Steel for Packaging offers.


APEAL - the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging is a federation of four multi-national producers of Steel for Packaging (ArcelorMittal, Tata Steel Packaging, ThyssenKrupp Rasselstein, US Steel Košice). In total these four companies employ over 200,000 workers in Europe. Founded in 1986, APEAL represents today about 95% of the total European production of Steel for Packaging. Alexander Mohr is secretary general of APEAL.

17 November 2014