Helvetia Metal Bottle Company SA, Puidoux – Switzerland, is fully committed to the three principles of sustainability which are: Economy, Social Responsibility and Ecology. We are very excited to have guest writer Dr. Gert Walter Minet on board to explain these concepts in detail. This article was requested by Mr. Jan Driessens, Chairman Helvetia Metal Bottle Company SA; former Board Member of KIDV (www.kidv.nl), Knowledge Institute Sustainable Packaging and Nedvang (www.nedvang.nl) for recycling of value materials; former Chairman BCME (www.bcme.org) and SKB (www.kringloopblik.nl) to outline the main sustainability concepts today.
We produce light weight, high-quality, packaging products (considered as disruptive innovation) for demanding customers of specialty and premium beverages. This creates a win-win situation for both customer and consumer.
2. Social responsibility
We create both new and stable working places in an innovative environment together with a reliable social security in order to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and experience from mature workers for the younger generation. This is whilst integrating the new age technology, which the generation Y and Z are growing up with. They are also exposed to a continuous learning curve and an ongoing need to acquire new skills for advancement which will be facilitated by this responsibility.
We manufacture our product according to highest environmental standards. This also implies that we take care of the life cycle of the product which means that the company will be engaged in collection, recycling and reintegration of used materials to fully support the circular economy. With these initiatives the ecological footprint will continually improve.
We strive to do our part to help install a newly designed circular economy by:
- Supporting the targets and instruments of the European Commission
- Using the Life Cycle Assessment as a tool for decision making and product design
We know that some of the positions that we take are still politically and scientifically under discussion or still on the way to be reviewed.
Therefore, when we take positions we make sure that we are both clear and transparent in our undertaking. We are in no doubt that our positions support the sustainability targets as we have good arguments and have found convincing support in different studies and reports.
In designing our bottles, we follow the principles of the Austrian Sustainability Agenda, which should create the ultimate benchmark for the other EU countries and explicitly highlights the ecological and economic aspects in optimizing packaging:
- Material efficiency
- Environmentally sound use of materials and energy
- Meeting consumer expectations
- Product security and quality
- Collection and recycling of one-way packages to the highest possible amount.
Get yourself acquainted to the benefits of our metal bottles according to the Austrian Sustainability Agenda:
- We produce ultra-lightweight bottles that fully protect the high-quality beverages (100% impenetrable against light, oxygen and gases).
- The aluminum can be recycled again and again, it can therefore be classified as a “permanent material” keeping its physical properties.
Definition British Standard Institution (BSI) standard 8905:2011 “Permanently available materials are those for which efforts are made to retain for use in society the energy and raw materials invested in their production at the end of the product life, either through reuse or recycling, with no loss of quality no matter how many times the material is recycled.”
Definition of permanent materials, fig. 3.3 in Carbotech, Final report, Permanent Materials 2014.
- The bottles fit perfectly into every collection scheme (curbside, return fees, deposit).
- Due to its scrap value aluminum generates high collection rates in each system.
- Recycling of aluminum means saving up to 95% in the recovery process compared to production of virgin material.
- This justifies the 100% allocation of recycling credits to the metal bottle system in LCA terms (see below: chapter allocation).
- The aluminum producers have installed and join in a short period the Aluminum Stewardship Initiative
- Producers of metal and metal packaging support the voluntary collection schemes of “every can counts” in 14 European countries.
Application of LCA
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is becoming the instrument for determining the environmental performance of products over their entire life cycle.
But whoever conducts or reads a LCA ISO 14040:2006, should also consider its limitations:
- Despite many years of application, the processing is still a matter of scientific and political discussion. Codes of conduct increase in volume to find commonly accepted methods. But neither the standardization of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) nor these codes have finally led to a unified approach.
- Originally designed to help to understand the life cycle, interpret the impact and make more informed decisions, it became – especially in the field of packaging – an instrument to compare and discriminate between packages. An instrument that it was never designed for.
- We do not support this and cannot accept it … but have to live with it! It cannot be turned back since competitors, politicians, NGO’s and even legislators want to prove somehow the superiority of different products.
What we have learnt.
- LCA describes only one part of sustainability. It does not consider the social and economic aspects which are equally important.
- Goal and scope describe the target. Nothing other than this can become the result. To give just one example: The former so called UBA I and UBA II Eco-balances for beverage packaging asked very simply: What is the best beverage package? (UBA is the Environment Protection Agency in Germany, Umwelt Bundes Amt).
- In the meantime, it became obvious that there is never one package that ‘fits all sizes’. There is not a ‘best’! Therefore, it would be more useful for the LCA to consider different scenarios that describe consumer behavior. Bearing this in mind producers must design and choose the package that fits the consumer and ecological requirements including ‘Design for re-use or recycling’.
- Carbotech, Ökobilanz Getränkeverpackungen (2014), Auftraggeber Bundesamt für Umwelt Schweiz, esp. pages 8 – 12 German; 25 – 30 English).
- ifeu Institut für Energie und Umweltforschung: Ökobilanzielle Untersuchung verschiedener Verpackungssysteme für Bier, esp. pages 8, 164. ifeu strongly recommends consumers to follow the decision making regarding the specific situations of products and scenarios, made by the industry. This is worthwhile even if it is complex and not easy to follow, because general conclusions that cover all scenarios cannot be made.
In any case the results of a LCA are highly influenced by the following parameters:
- Rate of collection and recycling
- Transport distances
- Allocation (especially for recycling)
- Number of trips in case of refillables
The first two can be measured; the fourth mostly is a controversial issue.
The third ‘allocation’ is most critical as there is unquestionably no scientific rule or solution. Therefore, LCA conductors tend to follow political (!) presetting.
We draw your attention to the most important issue: The allocation of the benefits in the recycling process of the aluminum.
Undoubtedly the aluminum recycling effectuates the biggest ecological advantages, e.g. savings of up to 95 per cent of energy and CO2 emissions in comparison to the production from bauxite – and even to competitive materials.
As allocation is crucial and of high importance to the results of an LCA, many stakeholders wish to have a say, including politicians, producers, NGO’s and competitors.
Whereas the ISO standard gives some room for interpretation, the authors of guidelines fall into some kind of “religious war”.
The reason is that there are no scientific rules for the allocation and that it also depends on value judgements.
“Die Festlegung von Allokationsfaktoren, besonders im Fall einer Systemallokation, lässt sich nicht alleine mit wissenschaftlichen Erwägungen begründen, sondern stellt eine Konvention dar, in die auch Werthaltungen einfließen.” (ifeu, page 14)
Making a rough estimate we see two main streams: On the one hand a strictly product oriented German school guided by the Environmental Protection Agency (UBA Umwelt Bundes Amt) that aims to produce product rankings to discriminate between packages and on the other hand a material oriented Anglo Saxon school in the UK, that definitely follows the sustainability targets of effective use and saving of raw materials.
To better understand the allocation issue, we take out the ecological benefit and examine the benefit seperately from the allocation procedure:
First: The ecological benefit, which is the saving of natural resources, originates from recycling. The recycled material re-enters the supply-chain replacing the input of newly produced materials. Here the ecological benefit is already generated and does not change.
Second: A different question is whether a partitioning of these benefits with another product system (than the aluminium bottle system) is necessary – and if so, how?
The LCA standard (EN ISO 14044:2006) states under number (184.108.40.206.) that allocation should be avoided wherever possible.
One method to avoid it is described under number (220.127.116.11.3.)
“A closed-loop allocation procedure applies to closed-loop product systems. It also applies to open-loop product systems where no changes occur in the inherent properties of the recycled material. In such cases, the need for allocation is avoided since the use of secondary material displaces the use of virgin (primary) materials.”
We see a strong argument that an allocation for our aluminum bottle can be avoided:
- Aluminum can be classified as a permanent material:
“Permanently available materials are those for which efforts are made to retain for use in society the energy and raw materials invested in their production at the end of the product life, either through re-use or recycling, with no loss of quality no matter how many times the material is recycled.” (British Standard Institution (BSI) standard 8905:2011)
- This view can also be deduced from the ILCD handbook, International Reference Life Cycle Data System, European Commission, Institute for Environment and Sustainability (page 347,348):
“The case of closed-loop recycling, in the stricter sense, is not very common, as discussed above. From the perspective of the materiality and the potential replacement of primary production, as modelled in consequential modelling, there is however no strict necessity that the secondary good is used for the same product. Most Important is that it replaces the same primary production route.” Source
We are convinced that this justifies the full allocation of the recycling benefits to the bottle system, which in LCA terms is a 100 : 0 allocation! Below you can find an example that illustrates significant influence allocation can have on the results:
Allocation in recycling process:
100 : 0 All benefits of recycling are assigned to the bottle system
50 : 50 Benefits are shared between two involved product systems
0 : 100 All benefits are assigned to the second product system
The influence of the allocation is huge and important:
(Only for illustration from an original LCA)
(Source: ifeu, Ökobilanzielle Untersuchung verschiedener Verpackungssysteme für Bier)
The well-known ifeu ‘Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung’ respects this argument in an Eco balance conducted for the Beverage Can Makers Europe (BCME), page 13/14. Ifeu calculated the figures for the LCA according to the 100:0 allocation and made a sensitivity analysis for 50:50.
But allocation is a never-ending story.
In a newly conducted study for the „Umwelt Bundes Amt“ (UBA) the same Institute (ifeu) reflects again on the different allocation methods with a lot of pros and cons. Finally, they recommended staying with the 50: 50 partitioning that UBA proposed in the first Eco balance on drinks packages.
This is purely (!) a political decision and not a sound argument:
“Solange seitens der Politik keine Priorisierung des Einsatzes bzw. der Erzeugung von Sekundärprodukten in Getränkeverpackungen oder der Rezyklaterzeugung formuliert wird, gibt es aus Sicht der Auftragnehmer keinen Grund für ein Abweichen vom bisherigen 50:50 Ansatz als Basisfall der Modellierung.”
Concludes ifeu Institut für Energie- und Umweltforschung in a report for the German Environmental Agency (UBA, Umweltbundes Amt), “Prüfung und Aktualisierung der Ökobilanzen für Getränkeverpackungen” (page 342).
Comment: It has to be mentioned that the goal of this report is to set rules for the LCA presented to UBA, which of course follows the UBA specifications: UBA has always had a strict individual view on product comparisons, because it is a part of the German packaging legislation. Therefore ifeu rejects guidelines like ILCD handbook which refer to material cycles.
In our view material cycles are the right approach, because these fully fit the sustainability idea, which means efficient use and saving of materials. Resources are scarce, not products.
AND this makes a big difference! Ifeu therefore distinguishes between aluminum products and aluminium packages!
Ifeu (page 337): “Die gute Rezyklierbarkeit und das tatsächlich in großem Ausmaß stattfindende Recycling von gebrauchten Stahl- und Aluminiumprodukten soll hier überhaupt nicht bestritten werden. Im Gegenteil es handelt sich dabei um eine der herausragenden Eigenschaften der Metallwerkstoffe, das im gesamtwirtschaftlichen Materialkreislauf mit einem großen ökologischen Nutzen verbunden ist. Letztlich handelt es sich aber …. in erster Linie um eine Materialbilanz, die für eine Aussage zu einem (abstrakten) mittleren Aluminium- oder Stahlprodukt herangezogen werden kann, jedoch nicht für die Getränkeverpackungsbilanzierung im Sinne des UBA geeignet sind.“
Ifeu provokes the question of what the difference between a product and a package is!!! And there is no answer.
Whereas the ISO standard gives some room for interpretation other arguments could also be made depending on the objective and target of the applicant and conductor.
One school of thought for the NGOs e.g. refers to a „product-to-product “recycling which is influenced incorrectly by the thinking regarding the closed loop of refillable bottles. This has nothing to do with the ecological saving! In this case the part of the benefit that is given to the releasing system depends on the part of material that is used to produce the same product.
Other ideas of partitioning refer to political / economic targets like increasing collection or using recycled material in a ‘material-to-material’ loop. In this case every partitioning is possible like 20:80 or 80:20.
It is with respect, only arbitrarily close.
We strongly believe that recognition of permanent materials both in legislation and by LCA practitioners will stimulate further investment in recycling infrastructure thus keeping recycled resources productive and minimizing the reliance on virgin materials, that need to be imported into the EU. This underlines the economic relevance of the circular economy as proposed by the EU commission.
One aspect that is often forgotten in LCAs is transportation and refrigeration. An American study finds that on a per liter beverage basis, emissions associated with transporting and cooling aluminum cans are 7-21% lower than plastic bottles and 35-49% lower than glass bottles, depending on the size of the comparative bottles as well as the type of refrigerators in which a beverage is cooled prior to consumption.
The report for the Aluminum Association, “Analysis of the Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emission Implications of Distributing and Refrigerating Beverages,” can be downloaded online.
In comparison to plastic, which is not a permanent material, PET downgrades due to down cycling (recycled resins), whereas metal keeps its physical properties.
For future LCA’s, scenarios have to be formed. The life style of people is changing and with this, consumer needs. The quantity of one- or two-person households and seniors is increasing, found not surprisingly by UBA.
A LCA of Carbotech „Ökobilanzierung von Getränkeverpackungen“ takes this also into account. It summarizes: Essential for the results are content, protection of the packages and the consumer behavior. There is not one single package that could fulfill these functions. The question therefore must be: How can these functions be met with the least environmental burden. (This is close to the Austrian Sustainability Agenda)
The study summarizes e.g. that aluminum cans rank well for transport, and are recycled up to 90%, although the energy resource cost for manufacturing primary aluminum is relatively high. The environmental profile of aluminum cans is overall competitive with other drinks packaging on the basis of their low weight and high recycling rates. They have a lower environmental impact (footprint) than single-use non-refill glass bottles, and therefore offer the most environmental friendly option for beer in both On-Trade as well as Off-Trade. For sure, this may be surprising for many people. But it shows that the design of the LCA and the definition of objective, target and scope are most influential.
The EU currently revises legislation and policies to move towards a Circular Economy. This moves from a linear to a circular consumption pattern, in which waste becomes a resource for the next production cycle.
Metals are permanent materials, which can be recycled again and again. Through multiple recycling, they are kept in a material loop and can become resources for other applications and packaging. Therefore, permanent materials are perfectly suited to respond to the objectives of a Circular Economy, contributing to the competitiveness of the European economy and decreasing the EU’s dependency on the import of raw materials.
Most suitable instruments for the implementation are voluntary deposit schemes, curbside collection, return fees.
This is the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by a product expressed as CO2 equivalent (Carbon Trust definition).
It is the most popular subject in the climate change discussion but only a small part of the ecological approach.
Two different standards were developed to measure it. PAS 2050 was introduced in 2008 (revised in 2011) with the aim of providing a consistent internationally applicable method for quantifying product carbon footprints. The GHG Protocol Product Standard was released in 2011 and in addition to providing requirements to quantify the GHG inventories of products, also includes requirements for public reporting.
Sometimes it is the basis for taxes.
Essential Requirements for Packaging
These ‘essential requirements’ are the rules to reduce packaging waste and put forth design requirements that cater to a wide range of packaging materials and packaged goods. Packaging that meets these requirements is guaranteed to be free of restriction for circulation in the European Economic Area. It is an annex to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.