Recycle Week: this is why tinplate packaging steel is so green
Sustainability and climate protection | Worth knowing | The sustainable design of packaging is a major challenge – and the unpackaged movement is gaining ground, and rightly so. But it doesn’t always have to be like this: with environmentally friendly packaging materials, we can do a lot for our planet. As part of “Recycle Week,” we present tinplate, one of the most sustainable packaging materials in the world.
It may very well be that most of you have never thought much about tinplate. Nevertheless, practically everyone has been in regular contact with thin, tin-plated or chrome-plated sheet steel in its most prominent form – the food can. Since Nicolas Appert’s breakthrough in food preservation at the beginning of the 19th century, the compact metal container has become an indispensable part of supermarket shelves and storage cellars around the world. And there are so many stories about food that, thanks to the tin can, have been preserved over incredible periods of time. For example, of bread that was still edible – at least theoretically – decades after its way into the tin can. Or from a can from 1873, the contents of which researchers even in 2007 classified as “probably edible.”
However, this is not because preservatives are added, but above all because of the protective character of tinplate packaging, which is usually only about 0.13 to 0.2 millimeters thin. This also makes tinplate cans an extremely light form of food storage.
Packaging steel: a masterly recycling rate – if you separate waste properly
In times of increasing awareness of sustainability and environmental protection, the great strength of tinplate lies in its incredible recyclability. In Germany, it has consistently exceeded all recycling quotas for the past ten years. In 2017, for example, a whopping 91 percent of the tinplate used as packaging material in Germany was recycled – in Europe, the figure was 80.5 percent. This makes tinplate the recycling champion among all packaging materials.
Dr. Peter Biele, CEO of the packaging steel experts at thyssenkrupp Rasselstein, knows that the right way to handle the tinplate can is crucial if it is really about doing something good for the environment: “In Germany alone, the amount of recycled packaging steel is so huge that every year 27 Eiffel towers could be made from the steel produced from it. But, of course, there is still room for further gains. Each individual has a responsibility to society and should separate waste properly.”
Tinplate: practically limitlessly recyclable
But why is packaging steel so easily recyclable? The answer can be found in its properties as a metal: because tinplate is magnetic, it can be more easily sorted out from other wastes. This is done by large electromagnets and is not only very efficient but also saves a lot of time. The cans are then collected, bundled into quality scrap, and recycled. This makes tinplate almost 100 percent reusable. And because packaging steel can become a new steel product – a component of a car, for example – virtually unlimited and without any loss of quality, experts like to speak of a “closed material cycle” when it comes to steel. Plastic packaging can only dream of this at the moment.
Packaging steel from thyssenkrupp: from Andernach to the entire world
In Andernach, Germany, thyssenkrupp produces around 1.5 million metric tons of packaging steel annually in the world’s largest production site of its kind. Our experts at thyssenkrupp Rasselstein roll steel down to a thickness of 0.1 millimeters and finish its surface with tin or chromium. They then deliver the finished tinplate to packaging manufacturers around the world. In addition to cans for food and pet food, our packaging steel is also used for other products, such as beverage and aerosol cans, containers for chemical products, crown corks, and screw caps.
And because we don’t want to do things half-heartedly, we have been actively ensuring the professional, targeted return of tinplate to steel production ourselves for many decades: via the “DWR – Deutsche Gesellschaft für Weißblechrecycling mbH” (German Society for Tinplate Recycling) founded by us and the “KBS Kreislaufsystem Blechverpackungen Stahl” (KBS Recycling System for Sheet Metal Packaging Steel), a non-profit recycling system operated by us, we want to improve the recycling of packaging steel in Germany a little every day. In this way, we actively contribute to the recycling of both privately and commercially used tinplate packaging.
Probably the most environmentally friendly packaging in the world
One thing is certain: packaging steel is and will remain a unique and successful product. For centuries, it has protected food in cans from certain spoilage, is more universally applicable than almost any other material, and, thanks to its strong recycling capabilities, beats virtually any packaging alternative. “If consumers correctly separate their waste today, it may become a component of a bicycle tomorrow and a car part the day after tomorrow. Recycling couldn’t be easier than with packaging steel,” summarizes Dr. Peter Biele. “It’s the closed-loop concept that we need to promote worldwide in order to leave our children with an environment worth living in. And this is where steel is already top of the range today.”
In this way, every recycled can helps to save the earth’s increasingly scarce resources. So when it comes to sustainability for packaging manufacturers, our tinplate experts are your first port of call!