The future of steel packaging
The future of steel for packaging looks promising, although there are a number of factors which will have an influence on its development.
In terms of design, two directions can be distinguished: luxury and authenticity. Steel can play a role in both. Matt appearance or the use of gloss, as well as printing directly on the can or using printed paper labels, all influence the final look and feel of a product. As a result of further work to thin steel, there may be opportunities to use steel for packaging fresh products as well. This will need some innovations in openability because consumers can have some reservations in accepting steel packaging, but new concepts will no doubt be developed.
Designers also use steel as the base for creating luxury packaging in which active elements like temperature indicators as well as UV and temperature sensitive inks for special effects are being taken up.
But the packaging market is volatile and packaging choices are not always based on rational facts alone. Misconceptions about steel packaging persist, particularly in the area of sustainability.
Steel packaging has been the most recycled packaging material in Europe for the last 10 years. Yet many consumers are not aware of this high recycling rate. Indeed, not all consumers understand the differences in recycling rates and even for those that do there are few opportunities to choose products based on their packaging format.
However, the environmental concerns of consumers are growing and appear likely to exert greater influence on their opinion and behavior than ever before. Given that steel packaging is able to reach the targets set by the European Circular Economy Package, this presents an ideal opportunity for the industry to reassert its excellent recycling performance in a way that engages consumers.
High recycling rates combine with many years of successfully reducing both the amount of steel that goes into making a package and the amount of energy used to make new packs. And further progress is ongoing. Yet the role of shelf life and its effect on food waste are not yet fully recognised in many Life Cycle Assessments (LCA).
To remain competitive in the volatile world of fast moving consumer goods, the industry must ensure that other benefits offered by steel packaging, such as long shelf life and reduced product loss, are more widely understood. Illustrating the possibilities to students who are destined to become our designers of the future, as has been done at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, is just one of many small steps required.
Steel remains an unrivalled solution for shelf life, transport, storage, use and recycling. Yet the design features and benefits of steel packaging must first be sold to the brand owners and consumers, to make them aware of the continual improvement in environmental performance that steel packaging provides.
Then there is every chance that the steel can which first appeared more than 200 years ago, will continue to protect and preserve our products for many years to come.
Roland ten Klooster, Professor Packaging Design and Management, University of Twente
Chair being paid by the NVC Netherlands Packaging Centre with support of twelve companies to raise the level of professionalism in the field of packaging
Designer/consultant at Plato product consultants
Executing structural packaging design on a higher level. One of the inventors of the Orbit cap (produced by Crown) and the Spring Latch (produced by Ardagh Group)