Focusing the scope: How the metal packaging industry is pursuing net zero

Dr John M. Rost, Vice President – Global Sustainability and Regulatory Affairs at Crown Holdings, Inc. – talks through the latest ways the worldwide packaging manufacturer and its sector are working to advance progress on net zero.

Metal Packaging Every Can Counts
Collaborating with organisations like Every Can Counts to support recycling campaigns around various metropolitan areas
Net zero continues to serve as an ultimate goal for various sectors – metal packaging included. Yet, there are still questions as to how packaging manufacturers will reach such an ambitious target, especially when your emissions levels are tied not just to your own operations, but to an industry at large.

Q - What does net zero mean for the metal packaging industry, in terms of capture, reprocessing and production?

Net zero, across all industries, refers to a balance between the level of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere versus removed – essentially neutralising an emissions footprint and reducing climate impact. For the metal packaging industry, the meaning is the same but simply requires steps unique to the sector's value chain. In particular, reaching net zero as a packaging manufacturer entails not only the more straightforward energy consumption changes, but also focuses on efforts to advance the Circular Economy and keep as much material as possible in a continuous life cycle. In doing so, we can continue creating essential goods in a manner that does not draw as many resources from the planet and preserves energy throughout production – ultimately reducing footprint.

Q - What are the key elements of the industry's net zero roadmap?

The roadmap to net zero includes two major categories where metal packaging manufacturers are working to move the needle: Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions as one group and Scope 3 as the other. Scope 1 and 2, referring to the emissions we produce either directly or indirectly from our operations, are where we can make more immediate impact by changing how we supply and manage energy sources to our plants. While there is still much more work to be done, we took critical steps to set emissions reduction goals approved by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), confirming that our goals are in alignment with the Paris Agreement to limit the global temperature increase to well below 1.5 degrees Celsius. We continue to adopt changes to help us get there, including transitioning to renewable sources where possible and finding ways to cut down on overall energy usage. Some heating processes today are still best suited for gas, but we are moving toward electrification and exploring other innovations that chip away at our global emissions levels.

Scope 3, on the other hand, is really where we are trying to advance and incite changes as this is where the industry's largest gaps in progress still remain. Scope 3 emissions are not produced by us but are indirect byproducts of activities across our value chain, and because our place in the industry requires interaction with so many upstream and downstream players, this category of emissions accounts for the lion's share of our overall footprint. Reducing Scope 3 emissions requires a commitment across the industry for value chain members to align with one another on goals and set up action plans that work toward those goals. For us, those collaborative goals often revolve around keeping the material journey circular. Ensuring more used beverage cans (UBCs) remain out of landfill and instead complete their recycling system route successfully helps to make more recycled materials available for use in new can production. Beyond raising recycled content averages and having to rely less on raw, finite materials – a major benefit for the planet – keeping this loop going actually saves on energy consumption levels, as producing cans from recycled materials saves roughly 95 per cent of the energy required with virgin substrates. By reducing energy usage, we reduce our emissions – keeping us closer to that balance net zero strives to reach.

Q - How is the industry working to reduce Scope 3 emissions?

The challenge with managing Scope 3 emissions is that the category truly requires all hands on deck. All members of the value chain must accept responsibility and work proactively together– not in silos – to create any meaningful change. In our case as a packaging manufacturer, this means focusing on our procurement stages and making sure we engage our suppliers diligently as we source our materials. We must align with these partners to determine where there are opportunities to increase recycled content averages in their supply and help them drive toward leaner, more eco-friendly production processes.

With downstream partners, we also must communicate and determine where there are opportunities for more effective consumer education that helps foster the right recycling habits, as well as opportunities for more effective material recovery. We are working on a diverse range of tactics within those two focus areas, including:

  • Collaborating with organisations like Every Can Counts to support recycling campaigns around various metropolitan areas, in which ambassadors help to collect cans from consumers and provide recycling information; driving toward new 2030 recycling rates goals including an 80 per cent aluminium beverage can recycling rate in the European countries in which we operate;
  • Conducting major recycling studies in various regions that uncover where recycling system infrastructure and consumer education can improve – and potential avenues for progress;
  • Exploring deposit programs where applicable to help encourage the return (and subsequently, the repeat utilisation) of valuable UBCs;
  • And, in the US, helping to fund grants for can capture equipment at material recovery facilities (MRFs) to improve sorting capabilities and UBC recapture rates.

While the aluminium can is already the most recycled beverage package in the world and reflects strong recycled content averages, the industry has significant room to improve. In many cases, the industry is up against an information gap or infrastructure gap that causes valuable materials to be misrouted and lost from the Circular Economy. To work to close this, we must be unified both upstream and downstream as well as with environmental organisations on exactly where each player's responsibility lies in educational lift, recycling system investment and shared markers of progress. This was the focus of the inaugural Global Aluminium Can Sustainability Summit we recently co-hosted in partnership with the Can Manufacturers Institute, Ardagh Metal Packaging and the International Aluminium Institute. We brought value chain members including material suppliers, consumer brands and many other industry representatives together to align on key steps to move the sector toward net zero and the recycling rate/recycling content strategies to help get closer to that end goal.

As we continue to build on the momentum created through these types of efforts, we will remain communicative about our progress and the industry’s advancement as a whole. Our new sustainability report ‘Progress in Motion’ details the latest of where we have invested resources and leadership in these areas and documents what we will focus on next. Net zero may be years away for the industry, but we are committed to doing our part to get that much closer.

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