Study reveals environmental impact of steel

A life cycle assessment on tinplate has revealed lower carbon emissions over two years.

The study, which was commissioned by the Association of European Producers of Steel for Packaging (Apeal), showed that the industry in Europe lowered its global warming potential (mainly CO2 emissions) by 9% over two years.

This is one of the results of a comprehensive study on the environmental footprint of tinplate production. More than half of the emissions from production can be saved if tinplate is recovered and reused, which is already standard practice in the EU, where the recycling rate of tinplate reaches an average of 71% (2010).

In order to make steel packaging more environmentally friendly and continue improvement, it is necessary to know the environmental impact over the entire life cycle. “Product stewardship doesn’t end at the factory gate,” says Philip Buisseret (pictured above), managing director of Apeal.

Therefore, Apeal carried out a comprehensive life cycle assessment (LCA) for tinplate production in Europe.

“Ninety five per cent of European tinplate production has been taken into account since all major tinplate manufacturers have participated,” adds Buisseret.

The results show that the steel for packaging industry has continued its trend towards a more sustainable production. In addition to lowering CO2 emissions by 9%, the environmental footprint of tinplate production has been reduced in other impact categories too, such as acidification (-6%), eutrophication (-11%) and primary energy demand (-3%).

Today, producing 1kg of tinplate (equal to 46 food cans of 425ml) emits 2.33kg of CO2. This is the carbon emissions equivalent to a family car driving a distance of 16 km. “Production is only one phase in the life cycle of a tinplate product. The steel industry focuses on the entire loop: efficient tinplate production and ‘end of product life cycle’ to improve the sustainability credentials of steel for packaging even further. The higher the recycled rate of steel packaging, the greater the savings on CO2 emissions, water, energy and raw materials,” adds Buisseret.

In Europe, where 71% of tinplate is recycled, CO2 emissions are currently reduced by 42%. If a theoretical recycling rate of 100% is used, CO2 emissions decrease by more than 60%. This is more than just theory. In Germany, 93.8% of tinplate is currently recycled, and almost all tinplate produced in Belgium is recovered with a recycling rate of 98%. “No other packaging material achieves higher rates of recycling in Europe,” notes Buisseret.

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