Packaging Technology Unlocks the Circular Economy

For metal packaging to reach its full circularity potential and meet the growing consumer demand, coatings innovation remains essential.

Coatings Innovation Plays a Critical Role in Recyclability

By Anurag Raj, PPG Customer Sustainability Business Partner, Packaging Coatings

Over the last few years, leading consumer brands have made ambitious pledges to reduce carbon emissions to address climate change. Invariably, the transition to more responsible packaging features is one of the key goals on the sustainability agenda of consumer brands worldwide. Most companies have already made sustainable packaging commitments, and several are evaluating pathways to meet these commitments.

Consumer packaged goods brands are exploring and adopting a variety of solutions, including a reduction in plastic usage, incorporation of recycled and bio-based content, transition to alternative materials and a myriad of other solutions that enable circularity. Although several of these options contribute towards a circular economy, metal packaging – particularly aluminum packaging – continues to lead the way as a superior choice owing to ready availability, global scalability, high recyclability and excellent functionality.

More than 70% of aluminum cans are recycled into new products today — almost double that of glass (34%) and plastic (40%), according to The International Aluminium Institute (IAI). Once collected from the consumer, aluminum cans have a sorting, reprocessing, and remelting efficiency rate of 90% compared with glass (67%) and plastic – polyethylene terephthalate (PET) of 66%.

The losses throughout the recycling process are three times higher for PET bottles and glass bottles than for aluminum cans. As a result, IAI’s research shows that aluminum cans currently support a more circular economy because more glass and plastic bottles end up in landfills.

For aluminum cans to reach their full circularity potential and meet the growing consumer demand, coatings innovation remains essential.

Meeting younger consumer demand

Sustainability concerns increasingly influence consumers’ purchasing decisions as younger consumers embrace the concept of a circular economy. Data from Morning Consult found that Gen Z shoppers are nearly twice as likely as baby boomers to consider a food and beverage product’s environmental impact. More than two-thirds of Gen Z respondents surveyed said sustainability has at least some effect on their food and beverage choices, including 32% who said it has a major impact.

However, only 17% of baby boomers said the topic has a major impact on their everyday eating and drinking behaviors. Clearly, younger consumers are not only aware of the environmental impact of consumption but also hold brands to higher standards of environmentally responsible conduct. In fact, in the recently released report on World’s Best Brands by Interbrand, a leading brand consultancy firm, quantitative environmental, social and governance (ESG) data was incorporated into the methodology for the first time.

In response, major CPG brands are relying on transitioning to more responsible packaging like aluminum to continue appealing to the younger generation.

Developing innovative coatings that are key to a circular economy

Coatings innovations in metal packaging make this aluminum shift possible. Major CPG brands need confidence that aluminum cans will not negatively impact product taste, quality, or shelf appeal. Interior coatings advancements keep flavor stability, minimize beverage or coating migration, and comply with all global food contact standards.

The external coatings advancements prevent damage during transit with abrasion resistance, enable complex can-forming processes, and support industry trends toward a wider array of shapes and customized printing options that ensure products stand out despite increasingly crowded shelf space. The right protective internal and external coatings can stay ahead of regulatory requirements and evolving consumer preferences for safe and sustainable products. In addition, these innovative coatings must allow easy and reliable application in varying conditions, temperatures, and humidity in different plants worldwide.

CPG brands are also shifting their primary packaging to post-consumer recycled (PCR) content. PCR offers environmental and economic advantages that support a circular economy. Coatings innovation is key to enabling even greater incorporation of recycled content into aluminum packaging because PCR’s unique surface characteristics and material properties require a comprehensive package of progressive coating solutions for continued product protection.

Brands are also shifting from single-use to reusable packaging to support the circular economy further. Specifically, cosmetic, personal and household care packaging centers on refillable aluminum packaging. As one example, Unilever PLC debuted a new line, “Love Beauty and Planet,” which features shampoos and conditioners in reusable aluminum bottles designed to meet the needs of an evolving consumer base. Again, innovative coatings will play a critical role, protecting substances from spoilage or quality degradation throughout the product’s entire shelf life.

Finding the right partner to reshape the future

Because of the associated economic and environmental benefits, more brands are turning to aluminum to create a circular model for packaging. Coatings advancements, meanwhile, will enable this broader brand adoption to meet consumer demand and regulatory pressure for safe and sustainable packaging. Coatings solutions also allow a greater post-consumer recycled mix in packaging and reusable packaging models. The right coatings solutions partner can help companies achieve their sustainability targets, support the circular economy and reshape the future.

About the Author

Anurag Raj is PPG’s Customer Sustainability Business Partner for Packaging Coatings. He is responsible for leading and supporting PPG’s and its customers’ sustainability targets. PPG’s Packaging Coatings business creates effective coating solutions for nearly all metal packaging end-use in the beverage, food, cosmetic, and personal care industries. The business offers a complete range of protective internal and external non-BPA coatings as part of its PPG INNOVEL® PRO and iSENSE® solutions. To learn more, visit www.packagingcoatings.com and sustainability.ppg.com. Send us an email at packagingcoatings@ppg.com

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