R.I.P. Steel Can

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Have you ever found yourself standing in the supermarket totally perplexed at trying to make a choice between the tuna  — in a can or in a pouche? No? Nor me. Truthfully, I grab the nearest pack and scoot but may be we should take a moment to think about it. It’s not just what tastes best ” the product inside is more often than not the same.  As responsible metals guys, we should pause to ask which can be recycled the most efficiently? Scrap recycling in the USA is one of this country’s (many) great success stories. Nearly every steel product made in the US has a portion of recycled steel and until recently steel and aluminum recycling rates were among the highest in the world (in the last ten years Asian and European countries have taken the lead, but largely as a result of government coercion of the population). The increasingly popular pouches have the advantage of being lighter and taking up less space. According to the Kapak Corporation of Minneapolis one truckload of its pouches has the same holding capacity as 25 truckloads of cans, and uses 75% less energy than cans to manufacture. No prizes for working out why pouches have become so popular then as gas and energy costs have risen. The problem is current designs of pouches can’t be recycled like cans. Because of the multi-material construction, nearly 100% of them are destined for the landfill site. Surprisingly there is little information available on independant studies into the life cycle costs of pouches vs cans. In addition, a major shift from cans to pouches would boost aluminum consumption but at the expense of steel.

So it isn’t such a flippant point after all, we could be seeing a very significant shift in the packaging industry happening in front of our eyes as producers make decisions based on not just marketing but power costs, raw material costs, landfill rates and the influence of legislators. Think about that next time you are making that tuna choice.

–Stuart Burns

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