In Europe, the recycling rate is growing steadily, thanks to selective collection and other methods, and is highly economical.
Out of total annual production of 5 million tonnes of steel for packaging, only in Europe (around 4.5 billion steel cans) some 53% are used in the food industry and 15% are used for beverage cans. Of the remainder, 17% are used in industrial applications (paint and solvent cans), 8% for caps and lids, and 5% for aerosols.
Not only are steel packages recyclable, but more importantly, they are actually recycled. Recycling rates for steel packaging are steadily increasing, with 4 million tonnes recycled annually, only in Europe, which represents growth of 300% in one decade! The average recycling rate for packaging steel in Europe is 63%, making steel the most widely recycled packaging material. The 63% recycling rate results in a savings of 10.6 Gjoule/t of steel produced, or the equivalent of 1 billion litres of fuel, which is enough to heat more than 250,000 average 4-person homes for one year.
Steel is easy to sort…
All disposable steel packaging, including cans, aerosols, and beverage cans, is easy to sort using the selective collection system at recycling centres. Because the cans are magnetic, they are easily isolated on the sorting lines, and are then compacted for reintroduction into the new steel manufacturing process in steel mills. This method provides effective recycling at least cost for local governments, and consequently for the citizens. The positive economic value of steel packaging eliminates the temptation to landfill it. And even where household waste is incinerated, the steel is totally recoverable from the residue because it is magnetic.
…and can be recycled indefinitely
From an environmental standpoint, one of steel’s major benefits is the fact that it can be recycled in its entirety and indefinitely, without changing its intrinsic properties.
Using recycled steel to make new products is not only standard practice in the steel industry, it is also a substantial source of savings in terms of energy and natural resources, and greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks to the investments steel packaging companies, like Arcelor Mittal has succeeded in reducing its CO2 emissions in absolute value by 18%, exceeding the objective set by local government sector agreements under the Kyoto Protocol.
Moreover, producing one tonne of steel from recycled scrap saves 1.35 tonnes of iron ore, 665 kg of coal, 191 kg of limestone, and uses 40% less water and 65% less power.
Steel packaging is designed with a view to reducing its environmental impact, thanks to ongoing efforts to reduce packaging weight. In the past 30 years, the beverage can has lost 40% of its weight, dropping from 40 grams to 21.7 grams. At the same time, pet food cans have shed 25%, from 60 to 45 grams, and food cans have lost 6% (from 103.3 grams to 87.5 grams) for a given volume.
This means that though the number of steel cans produced continues to grow, the volume of steel used is decreasing.
Press release: by Arcelor Mittal Spain
Photo: IZW Germany