Africa’s largest packaging company, Nampak, is planning on replacing its plastic beverage bottles with aluminium cans and paperboard cartons. As consumer resistance to plastic packaging increases, Nampak is trying to find more environmentally-friendly alternatives to their packaging products.
The JSE-listed company is particularly interested in using aluminium cans and cartons to bottle still and sparkling water. South Africans consume around 600 million plastic water bottles every year. While our polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling statistics are amongst the highest in the world, aluminium alternatives would be infinitely recyclable.
Plastic is a cheap and efficient packaging material, which is why it has become so predominant. However, plastic can only be recycled a number of times before its quality degrades beyond a usable point. Aluminium does not do this – it can be recycled over and over again.
Less plastic, more aluminium packaging
Many of South Africa’s largest suppliers and retailers have already committed to reducing their plastic usage. Pernod Ricard is planning on tackling plastic packaging waste through an eight-step plan. Pick n Pay has launched a new range of reusable shopping bags. KFC, Woolworths, Vodacom and Mars Africa have all committed to reducing their plastic output.
By using aluminium cans as an alternative to plastic bottles, particularly for water, Nampak will make use of South Africa’s high metal recycling rates. The country currently recycles around 76% of all metal packaging products. These cans are lightweight, durable and better at retaining carbonation than plastic bottles. The only downside is that aluminium cans cannot be resealed.
Cartons are sustainable
Nampak is positive about the future of paperboard cartons as a packaging material. Paper is re-emerging as a popular choice for liquid packaging. Nowadays, cartons are made from 87% renewable sources and have a recycling rate of 66% in South Africa. They are also cost-competitive.
Nampak has already started to supply water producers with carton packaging. The company also sees potential growth in the wine sector. However, the biggest sector for carton packaging will remain the fruit juice and dairy markets. Carton packaging is resealable, which enables liquid producers to offer their products in larger volumes.
Nampak not ditching plastics entirely
Nampak has said that it will continue to produce plastic packaging because the demand is simply too high to ignore. It has also stated that it will not sell its plastics business. Nampak is currently trying to sell its glass manufacturing company to the highest bidder.
The packaging manufacturer will try to reduce the use of plastic where possible through feasible alternatives. Some products simply still require plastic packaging – in these cases, Nampak will introduce lightweight versions made from recycled content that will improve post-consumer recyclability.
These moves by Nampak are intended to improve competitiveness and sustainability. Aluminium and carton alternatives are currently the best next step for the packaging company. In the move to reduce reliance on plastic products, consumers and manufacturers are looking for more environmentally-friendly alternatives.
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