Aluminium packaging via its unique combination of properties contributes to the efficient fabrication, storage, distribution, retailing and usage of many products. It can contain, protect, decorate or even dispense products as diverse as soft drinks and soaps, pet foods and snack foods, tobacco and toiletries, chocolates and chilled foods, tablets and take-away meals even tennis balls and welding rods. Aluminium packaging has become part of everyday life.
Packaging today responds to consumers’ demands for choice and convenience as well as changed production and distribution conditions and systems. By safeguarding product quality, packaging allows products to be transported and distributed locally, regionally and even globally, thereby making valuable food resources available to a wider population. In modern households, people increasingly turn to the use of fully-prepared meals, canned and frozen foods, in a wide variety of portion sizes, to save time in cooking and preparing meals. Packaging makes this possible.
Aluminium packaging offers a high level of corrosion resistance. It provides optimal protection properties by offering an impermeable metal barrier to light, ultra-violet rays, water vapour, oils and fats, oxygen and micro-organisms. When used to package sensitive products such as pharmaceuticals or food, aluminium is hygienic, non-toxic, non-tainting and retaining the product’s flavour. The aluminium barrier also plays the essential role of keeping the contents fresh and protecting them from external influences, thereby guaranteeing a long shelf-life.
Furthermore, aluminium is also by far the lightest “complete barrier” packaging material. For example, a 4.8 g flexible fruit juice pouch with aluminium is 33 times lighter than a traditional bottle and the standard 33 cl aluminium beverage can now only weighs 14 g or less, including lid and opening tab! Where laminates are involved, even the smallest aluminium thickness of 0.006 mm is sometimes enough to provide the required barrier properties. Aluminium leads the way in “doing more with less” for source reduction in packaging. This saves both raw materials costs and energy resources.
Aluminium foil is made by passing coiled aluminium sheet repeatedly between steel rollers, which are set progressively closer together. Each pass squeezes the foil a little thinner. It takes 10 to 12 passes to make the thinnest foils. Foil only one-hundredth of a millimetre thick is still completely impermeable. Aluminium foil's essential properties are:
- Heat conductivity
- Strength and durability
- Ability to deadfold
- It stays wrapped around food items without needing further sealing
- Non-toxicity and corrosion resistance
Because of its unique combination of properties it is used in a variety of different applications with its largest use being in containers and packaging for food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.
Aluminium cans are perfect containers - strong, lightweight, compact, impermeable, safe and recyclable. Most drinks cans are now made of aluminium and their popularity is easy to understand as aluminium imparts no taste, it keeps flavour and carbonation in and oxygen, light and moisture out. Also it is shatter proof and any attempts at possible tampering are easily detectable.
Aluminium beverage cans have a protective polymer coating applied on the inside to prolong storage life. This polymer coating ensures that the acids and salts in beverages or food never actually come into contact with the metal.
Aluminium cans are easier to ship to wholesalers and retailers than both glass or plastic bottles because of they are light, but strong. They stack better in delivery trucks, on shelves and in the refrigerator and need less protection during shipment. Significant energy savings are made in both shipping and distribution.
Aluminium cans are also easy to collect for recycling and one of their great assets is that they are totally recyclable.
Text: International Aluminium Institute
Photos: Alcoa Packaging, alufoil, Alu-GO