Innovation for an optimised raw material cycle
In the waste hierarchy, waste avoidance has top priority. In other words, the best waste is waste that does not occur at all. But that’s easier said than done. Packaging is indispensable for aerosols: in addition to protective, transport and storage functions, it ensures the characteristic application and use of a product. Besides, every packaging component of a spray can has an important function with regard to product safety and user protection.
Therefore, no components can be omitted in terms of avoiding waste. But would it be possible to substitute conventional materials with more environmentally friendly alternatives?
Let’s take a closer look at the packaging components of an aerosol can
The actual aerosol container must be able to withstand high pressures and sometimes highly dosed active ingredients and is therefore made of a lightweight, but at the same time strong material, usually tinplate or aluminium.
According to the Central Agency Packaging Register (ZSVR), the recycling rate for aluminium is almost 94%; the rate for ferrous metals is slightly higher at 95%. Consequently, it can be said that the circular economy works well here.
Next, we will look at the valve and spray nozzle. The interaction between these two components is a science on its own; both determine the rate of application and the spray pattern of the finished product.
Like the aerosol cylinder, these components must be resistant to pressures and different active ingredients. So, it’s better if we don’t try to change them – unusable aerosol packaging will also soon end up in the waste disposal system.
But what about the cap? It protects the valve, prevents unwanted spraying and allows the cans to be stacked better, but it has no connection with the actual product. It is usually made from plastic or, to be more precise, polypropylene (PP) which is produced from primary material.
While Germany and other western countries have functioning waste and recycling systems, this is most certainly not the case everywhere: unfortunately, a lot of plastic waste ends up in nature and in the ocean, where it takes hundreds of years until it breaks down into increasingly smaller particles, but never decomposes completely (keyword: microplastics).
In collaboration with Dresden University of Technology, we started looking for a more sustainable solution and struck a bonanza with OecoPac, a company that produces round packaging. Together, we developed an aerosol cap that consists of coiled, crimped cardboard.
It can be made from 100% recycled feedstock and can be completely recycled again. By the way, according to the ZSVR, the packaging group paper, cardboard and paperboard has a recycling rate of at least 81.9% and decomposes completely within a few months, depending on the thickness.
But there’s more: compared to plastic caps, cardboard caps are not only available in a few, boring standard colours but can be individualised to suit the customer’s requirements.
This is the cornerstone for acceptance and establishment of the cardboard cap on a large scale, since personalisation, creativity and identity design largely determine the success of products and services in the hotly contested consumer market.
The aerosol caps we use weigh 7–11 grams on average; of the approximately 70 million aerosols we produce each year, about two thirds of all cans have caps, which together weigh around 420 tonnes, almost as much as the International Space Station ISS. These are 420 tonnes of plastics that we could save every year. And we are just one manufacturer.
Management of significant waste-related impacts
- Measures to support the circular economy, downstream waste, waste-related impacts
Materials used by weight or volume
- Renewable and non-renewable materials (the cardboard cap is made from renewable material; this does not necessarily have to be recycled material)
Recycled input materials used
- Percentage of recycled input materials
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