Energy & Environment

Making a success of the circular economy

Alexander Mohr / Dec 2015

Frans Timmermans and Jyrki Katainen of the European Commission. Photo: European Union


The announcement of the European Commission’s €670m Circular Economy (CE) Package has catapulted sustainability, recycling and the entire culture of how Europe uses its natural resources into focus. With increased recycling targets and a vast range of other measures included in the announcement with the aim of driving change, fierce debate and discussion over what the future of Europe’s manufacturing industry will look like has already begun.

Moving towards a more sustainable economy will, of course, work better for some industries than it will for others. The CE package is excellent news for steel packaging and we are in a great position to help deliver on its ambitions for higher recycling, namely 75% steel packaging recycling by 2015.

There is no better illustration of the strength of the case we can make – and the success we’ve already had in making steel the perfect circular packaging material – than the graphic above.

The figures show recycling rates above 75% in many major European companies including Portugal, Spain, France, Norway, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. In Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, meanwhile, recycling rates are now above 90%, coming close to fully closing the loop and ensuring all steel packaging is recycled and reused. Promisingly too, those with lower rates such as Poland are engaging in the process of improving their infrastructure to help bring recycling levels up.

It makes APEAL increasingly confident about meeting our own self-imposed overall recycling target of 80% by 2020.

Steel, of course, has an inherent advantage – its magnetic properties make it easy and economical to separate from other waste during sorting and it can be recycled repeatedly, indeed forever, without loss of quality. Additionally because steel scrap is an inherent part of the production process for new steel, every single steel plant in Europe is also a recycling plant.

This unique blend means steel is in a strong position to meet the world’s future requirements; a fantastic selling point for our member companies – ArcelorMittal, Tata Steel Packaging, thyssenkrupp Packaging Steel and US Steel Košice.

We haven’t simply relied on steel’s inherent qualities to help promote steel to manufacturers.

Instead we’ve supplemented our market leading recycling rates with a detailed, quality-reviewed assessment of the environmental profile of tinplate over its entire life cycle.

Life cycle thinking avoids shifting environmental burden from one life cycle stage to another and gives businesses and brands the full picture, allowing them to effectively assess a packaging material’s qualities and make informed decisions.

This, we believe, will become more and more important as companies are encouraged to use more sustainable goods and build this into their design process.

The results of the research show that steel packaging has made continuous improvements in environmental performance. For example, CO2 emissions during production have decreased by 12% since 2006 and primary energy demand has dropped by 2%. When the 2012 recycling rate of 74% is taken into account, primary energy demand drops by 30% and emissions are reduced by a stunning 46%.

Our industry will continue on course, championing steel’s qualities as the ideal packaging material for a circular economic model. For us, while the announcement of the package and increased recycling rates is a huge success, it is also just the beginning of the real tangible change that is needed; the starter’s pistol has been fired.

We now expect to see a drive by national governments, spurred on by the need to meet recycling rate targets, to increase pressure on manufacturers to incorporate more sustainable materials into their design and production processes.

Expect, then, to see more and more companies accentuating environmental and sustainability credentials within their marketing and promotional materials.

Once consumers catch-on, the real progress will undoubtedly be made.


Alexander Mohr

Alexander Mohr

December 2015

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