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Tinplate packagers aim for 92% recycling by 2030; circular economy pressures mount


EU Green Deal has set regulatory 'challenges'

Changes in passivation to facilitate recycling

UK packagers await mandatory labeling

Regulators have proposed tinplate packaging producers achieve a 92% recycling rate by 2030, as pressure mounts on producers to further embrace circular economy principles, particularly in Europe, according to speakers at virtual International Tinplate Conference, organized by the UK-based International Tin Association.

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"The European Green Deal has set huge regulatory challenges for the European steel packaging sector," said Ruaidri MacDomhnaill, regulatory manager of APEAL, the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging. "It will impact all levels of the life-cycle of packaging, to ensure more circularity."

APEAL is a grouping of six steelmakers responsible for Europe's entire production in this sector: Acciaierie d'Italia, ArcelorMittal, Liberty Liège-Dudelange, Tata Steel, thyssenkrupp Rasselstein and US Steel Košice.

Steel for packaging has a key role to play in the broader sustainable transition foreseen under the European Green Deal, from design to reuse, MacDomhnaill said.

"The European Commission wants packaging to be almost entirely reusable by 2030... focus has shifted from the linear economy, of take, make and dispose, to the circular economy based on reduce, reuse and recycle," he said.. The assumption is that materials will remain permanently in the materials loop.

Steel packaging segments, (including tinplate which is tin-coated steel), already have high recycling rates, with an 84% recycling rate currently in the EU 27+3 area, according to information presented by MacDomhnaill. However, to reach the higher rate now proposed, with the target that no recyclable packaging should go to landfill, more scrap or recycling monitoring needs to occur, he said.

These could include optimization of separate waste collection, increased collection and sorting of steel closures; stabilizing scrap quality standards; monitoring of landfills and improved reporting, including standardization of the point of reporting, he said.

In addition, a new passivation method for packaging products – putting an extra layer of chromium-free coating on tinplate – can help improve scrap quality because this helps prevent oxide growth or stabilizes the tin oxide present. Passivation would now normally be achieved by deposition on the tinplate of a very thin layer of titanium or zirconium film, known as the Chromium Free Passivation Alternative. The increased use of passivation is "a challenge for the entire value chain," MacDomhnaill said.

Making coatings chrome free also helps producers comply with the EU's REACH legislation on use of chemical substances, he noted.

Tinplate is typically used for food cans, which have the advantage of not needing to be refrigerated.

UK preparing new legislation

Robert Fell, director and chief executive of the UK's Metal Packaging Manufacturing Association, said that the UK government is also preparing new legislation for all metals packagers in the UK, based on the concepts of extended producer responsibility, consistency of collection and a deposit return scheme.

The aim is to create new producer obligations, improve standardized curbside collection and boost recyclability, he said. DRS will cover aluminum products including beverage cans. Aerosols are not currently included in the collection scheme, but should be included in future, he said.

Mandatory EPR labeling means that non-recyclable containers will no longer remain anonymous, he said.

"Costs will rise considerably for everyone, including metal packs," with the new rules, according to Fell. Costs of collection in particular will rise enormously, he said.

"Steel packaging recycling rates are to rise from 85% in 2024 to 92% in 2030," Fell said, indicating that current rates may be at 77%, but that there may be issues with reliable reporting of collection, weighing and recycling levels.

The new legislation -- the launch date of which is still unclear -- will require material to be collected at scale, be sorted and processed and have an available end-market where it will be reused, he said.

MPMA has 29 members and one member will be breaking ground on a new UK production facility in November, with another one planned, Fell said.