The UK aerosol sector is worth more than £3bn. Aerosols manufactured in a year use around 30,000 tonnes of high-grade metals which help to avoid product damage and degradation as well as waste. They constitute a significant resource, all of which can be recycled.
In 2016, more than 1.5 billion aerosol cans were filled by UK producers; the personal care sector alone accounted for 1.1 billion. This exceptionally strong performance followed record filling levels in 2015, and is indicative of an industry which has continued to thrive despite challenging market conditions, demonstrating the continued consumer demand for products in aerosols.
The 2016 figures also reflect recognition from manufacturers, brands and consumers of the quality and integrity of the packaging format. Aerosols have become the first choice for millions of consumers across an increasingly diverse product range.
Meanwhile, the past two decades have seen a seismic shift in terms of consumer and industry recognition of the need to recycle more. In 2001, just 7% of local authorities collected empty aerosols for recycling; by 2006 that figure had reached 75% and, just over a decade on, the figure now stands at 97%.
This is testament to the extensive work undertaken by the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association (BAMA) and other organisations, including Unilever and Alupro, to ensure that no risk is associated with collecting aerosols as part of kerbside collection schemes. Extensive guidance has also been provided to help consumers recycle more of the 600 million aerosols which are used in the UK each year.
Following its involvement with the successful Aerofoil programme, BAMA joined the MetalMatters initiative. Targeting councils and demonstrating clear return on investment, MetalMatters encourages them to collect empty aerosols, which account for more than 4% of the metals packaging stream, as well as clean aluminium foil and other household recyclables.
The programme continues to help councils reach their recycling targets and avoid landfill costs and taxes, as well as adding revenue to recycling schemes.
Grundon Waste Management is the latest business in the recycling industry to join BAMA. The company has invested £3m in its Aeropak plant at Ewelme in Oxfordshire, which processes more than 40cu m of aerosols a day – equivalent to the contents of two articulated vehicles.
Specialist compaction technology is deployed within an inert nitrogen atmosphere. Every component is recycled or reprocessed in a sealed and safe oxygen-free environment, with zero emissions. This keeps the risk of fire to a minimum. Other disposal methods, such as shredding, fail to recycle the propellants and can cause be a fire hazard if the harmful gases or vapours released from the aerosols are not effectively controlled.
Aeropak is also helping to transform the way the pharmaceutical industry disposes of asthma inhalers because it can recover propellant gases for use by air-conditioning manufacturers. Since the plant’s launch in 2015, it has attracted interest in the UK and Europe.
At the same time, the EU’s circular economy (CE) proposals and general move towards a CE is gaining traction, in turn raising awareness of the environmental and economic value of what have become known as permanent materials such as steel and aluminium.
This is not to say the future is without challenges. Brexit poses many questions which at this time cannot be answered fully – the impact on the environmental and recycling performance of the aerosol sector being hard to predict. But projects such as the BAMA’s ‘Future of Aerosols’, which focus on issues such as the CE, have been designed to help members create, develop and improve their sustainability programmes.
Meanwhile the association is strengthening relationships with sister organisations overseas, a reciprocal agreement having recently been signed with the Aerosol Association of Australia, for example. Such links will help associations to share information and co-operate on a range of initiatives including sustainability, while also offering significant benefits as we face the challenges of a more demanding and complex regulatory landscape.
There have been many developments in the aerosol industry across the decades and, while the basic format of the aerosol remains largely unchanged, it remains an innovative sector. Speakers come from around the world to share the latest innovations in design and technology at the annual BAMA Innovation Day.
This year, the use of microfluidic technology was presented as a means of improving cost efficiencies, while the use of interactive packaging was debated as means of targeting millennials specifically and driving consumer engagement. Perhaps the most notable change has been the move towards more premium-based aerosols. As an example, air fresheners used to be a basic functional product until Procter & Gamble created Febreeze, a game-changer in terms of consumer perception.
Consumer opinion looks set to remain favourable – after all, aerosols are airtight, clean and hygienic. They are easily controlled and offer the performance needed for technical applications as well as general domestic use and more unusual applications in the food industry. In Japan, for example, coffee and chicken soup can be found in aerosols, while in the US, tomato sauce, cheese and mustard are all commonly purchased in the packaging format. These trends may never find their way to the UK, but it is certain that we will see an ever-expanding range of products sold in aerosols.
The continued growth in production means that the importance of recycling aerosols will continue to rise in parallel, as well as helping industry and local authorities to meet rising recycling targets. The BAMA will continue to work with and support its partners and members, providing guidance and resources to create a sustainable aerosol industry.
Meanwhile, the role played by councils to collect the estimated 25,000 tonnes of tinplated steel and 4,500 tonnes of high-grade aluminium currently available from aerosols used in the UK each year remains vital if we are to fully realise the aspiration of a true CE.
BRITISH AEROSOL MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION
Initially a home for fillers and can makers, the BAMA’s members now include component and ingredient suppliers, marketers and, notably, the waste management sector. Its aims are:
- Setting high standards in safety, good manufacturing practice and on environmental issues.
- Presenting the industry’s views to legislators, the media and opinion formers.
- Promoting the aerosol and encouraging innovation.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Aerosols were invented by Norwegian Erik Rotheim in the 1920s to help him put wax on his skis.
- The first aerosols to be made in the UK were insecticides and air fresheners in 1949.
- The most popular aerosols are deodorants and body sprays, first made here in 1954.
- UK aerosols have not contained CFCs since 1989.
RECYCLING AEROSOLS IN 2017
- 70% of the UK population regularly buy aerosols
- 97% of local authorities now accept aerosols in kerbside collections
- 91% of consumers recycle aerosols from the bathroom
- 70% recycle aerosols from the bedroom
- 78% recycle aerosols from the kitchen
Patrick Heskins is chief executive of the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association