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From Can Lids to Wine Bottles, Ball is Changing the Shape and Weight of Packaging

Food and drink companies often get accolades when they come out with packaging that's lightweight, uses less material or is made with more recycled content. But it's usually the actions of a packaging company, or collaboration between package makers and product makers, that leads to those sustainable solutions.

In recent years Ball has unveiled new innovations in packaging with lighter aluminum bottles and plastic wine bottles, but its history has also included a steady steam of packaging improvements.

"Some of the things we have done have been relatively new, while others are the evolution of changes we have been making for literally decades," said Scott McCarty, Ball's director of corporate relations. "Lightweighting our products is an example of the latter. Ball has been taking metal and plastic out of our cans and bottles for years."

Ball's 12-ounce aluminum cans, for example, are 40 percent lighter than they were in 1969, when it took about 48 pounds of aluminum to make 1,000 cans. It now takes about 29 pounds.

In the past 25 years, Ball has also changed the size of its aluminum can lids five times, with the newest lid, added about four years ago, using 10 percent less aluminum than the previous version.

As for Ball's other packaging, its steel beverage cans are 50 percent lighter than in 1970, steel food cans are 35 percent lighter than in 1992, half-liter plastic bottles are 35 percent lighter than in 1995, and 1-liter plastic bottles are 30 percent lighter than in 2004.

In addition to cutting down on the amount of material that goes into packaging, Ball has increased the recycled content. Worldwide, the average amount of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content is 44 percent for its aluminum cans, 25.5 percent for its steel cans and 6.4 percent for its PET plastic bottles.

But those numbers start changing when comparing the content in different countries. Ball's aluminum cans in North America have an average of 41 percent PCR content, while the same cans in Europe average 50 percent PCR content. Steel cans in Europe have 56 percent PCR, more than double the 22 percent PCR content in steel cans in North America.

Just last year Ball increased the PCR content of its PET bottles in the U.S. to 6.4 percent, but is able to further increase that amount on a customer-by-customer basis, such as with the bottles containing 40 percent PCR content that it developed for one customer.

But with plastic, there are hurdles - like sourcing good quality plastic and enough material - that don't exist with aluminum and steel.

"A key to making bottles with higher PCR content is getting high-quality PCR to start with," McCarty said. "That has been a challenge for a long time, but the quality seems to be getting better, allowing us to include more PCR. Still need more quantity."

Beyond lightening and increasing the recycled content of packaging, Ball has developed new products to lower the impacts of packaging in the past few years.

The Alumi-Tek bottle (right) is a reclosable aluminum bottle introduced in 2007 that comes in three sizes - 8, 12 and 16 ounces. Aside from being lighter than glass bottles, the Alumi-Tek is 50 percent lighter than similar-sized aluminum bottles.

Ball also created various-sized PET plastic wine bottles that use Plasmax barriers (a layer of glass that is so thin it can't be seen by the naked eye), which protect the wine, keep wine out of contact with the plastic bottle and are easily removed during recycling.

Wine producer Sutter Home has been using Ball's Plasmax 187-mL bottles since 2005, starting first by converting select markets to the plastic bottles until it completely switched all of its 187-mL bottles to plastic in 2009.

Sutter Home has reaped a number of benefits by switching to the plastic bottles, which are one-sixth the weight of its previous glass bottles.

"Producing the PET bottles generates 60 percent fewer greenhouse gasses than producing the glass bottles, plus the smaller PET bottles allow the winery to use less fuel and gain supply chain efficiencies because we get more bottles on a pallet and on a truck," McCarty said. "The company has also realized great efficiencies in the filling process because they no longer have to shut the filling line down every time a glass bottle breaks."

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