Steel and aluminium packaging (2022)

Protagonists in the food sector since 1800, metal packaging has been widely used also in the cosmetics, pharmaceutical and chemical sectors. Dimensions and characteristics of the Italian market (final 2022 figures), broken down by type.

Barbara Iascone

Before analysing the 2022 data for metal packaging, it is worth starting from what happened the previous year, when the trend was decidedly positive, with an overall production of +10.5%: a growth determined by the necessary replenishment of warehouse stock which the producers had drawn on during 2020.

In 2022, the sector is undergoing a global production decline of around -11%, partly due to a physiological trend after the significant growth in 2021, and partly due to the fall in the consumption of certain types of products, typically packaged with two materials.

Table 1. The market for metal packaging. Values t/000 and mln euros.
  2019 2020 2021 2022 var. 22/21
Turnover mln euro 4811 4536 5430 6685 23.10%
Production 829.67 812.3 897.6 796.6 -11.30%
Import 74.7 63 76 83.6 10.00%
Export 362.3 377.3 395.3 362.1 -8.40%
Apparent consumption 542.07 497.96 578.3 518.1 -10.40%
source: Packaging in Figures elaboration on ISTAT variations giving assumption for 2022.

The production of metal packaging in 2022 fell, therefore, to under 797,000 tonnes, exports fell by 8.4%, to just over 362,000 tonnes, while imports increased by 10% arriving at around 83,600 tonnes. There was a different trend, however, for the turnover of both types (the 2022 variation on 2021 was +23%), exceeding 6.6 billion euros, thanks to the increase in energy costs and raw materials which led to a significant rise in packaging prices.

The relative percentage impact of the two types of material – steel and aluminium – on the total of metal packaging changes according to whether we are talking about quantities expressed in weight of in turnover values. Steel packaging accounts for 81% of metal packaging produced in Italy, while those in aluminium account for 19%. If we talk about impact in terms of value, the situation is inverted, with aluminium packaging accounting for 66% and those in steel 34%.

Table 2. Breakdown between steel and aluminum, packaging year 2022. Values t/000 and mln euros.
  Steel Aluminium
Turnover mln euro 34% 66%
Production 81% 19%
source: Packaging in Figures elaboration on ISTAT variations giving assumption for 2022.

Metal packaging: the points of strength

  • Resistance and duration. They effectively protect products from knocks, pressures and damage during transport and in storage.
  • Protective barrier. Metal guarantees an adequate barrier against oxygen, light, humidity and external contaminating agents, maintaining the freshness and quality of the packaged products for a longer time.
  • Recyclability. Metal packages are highly recyclable. Metal recycling reduces environmental impact and contributes to the preservation of natural resources.
  • Versatility. Metal can be modelled in different forms and dimensions, permitting a vast range of packaging options. It can be used to package foods, beverages, chemical products, cosmetics and others besides.
  • Attractive design. Metal packaging can be personalised with interesting labels, colours and designs to attract consumers’ attention to store shelves.

Overview of types and intended use

Steel packaging. On the basis of the classification presented in Imballaggio in Cifre (packaging in Figures), steel packaging is subdivided into two macro categories: lightweight tinplate packaging and thin sheet metal drums.

Tinplate packaging is in turn subdivided into three types: open top, used for packaging food products (peeled tomatoes, vegetable preserves, tuna…); general lines, used for chemical products (paints and varnishes, solvents), but also cans for edible oil and canisters for food and non-food; closures (crown caps and twist off caps). Kegs, cylindrical or truncated-conical, are made of sheet steel without tin coating, but are protected by suitable internal and external coating. They are characterised by a capacity of between 50 and 300 litres, with a net prevalence of those with a capacity of 200 litres. The use area of kegs can be food, for example, for handling tomatoes from harvesting to processing, or for the packaging of oil for industrial use, or non-food use, petroleum, fuel, etc..

Aluminium packaging. There are various containers for food and otherwise, cans for beverages, tins for canned food such as pâté, caviar etc., trays. Tubes, used in both the food and non-food sectors (tomato concentrate, sauces, paints, cosmetics…), also fall into this category, as well as canisters and bottles used mainly to package cosmetic products. Finally, we mustn’t forget thin aluminium sheet, closures and screw caps, easy open systems, etc.

Table 3. Light packaging (tinplate): % breakdown per sector giving apparent use.
Open top 61.70%
Food oil 4.50%
General line (chemical prod & fancy tins) 10.30%
Spray cannisters 13.40%
Closures 10.10%
Total 100.00%
source: Packaging in Figures elaboration on ISTAT variations giving assumption for 2022.

The Italian steel packaging market: dimensions and characteristics

In 2022, the production of steel packaging expressed in tonnes stood at around 668.9 t/000, with a falling trend compared to 2021 equal to -10.3%.

Analysing the data relating to foreign trade, imports were strongly up, closing 2022 with a growth rate of +18.1% and reaching 66 t/000. This growth has now been uninterrupted since 2019. It should be pointed out that 76% of imports refers to light packaging which alone grew by almost 15%. Exports fell by 2.9%.

  • With regards to lightweight tinplate packaging, open top, closures and part of the general line (those of small dimensions), they along recorded a fall of -5.2% and today account for around 85% of total steel packaging. Lightweight tinplate packaging is subdivided as follows: 61.7% in open top and 28.2% in general line overall. Canisters are at 13.5%, closures at 10.4% and containers for edible at 4.7%. For open top, determining the most significant falls were the negative trends of animal preserves (fish and meat), while for the general line, there were falls in almost all sectors.
  • The steel kegs area in 2022 recorded a production of 124,000 tonnes, significantly up compared to 2021 with a trend of +10%, largely recovering the fall recorded in 2020. Both imports and exports had positive trends: +60% the first and +15% the second. Steel kegs are used for 70% in the petroleum chemical sector and the remaining 30% are used for the handling of seeds, tomatoes or for the transport of products intended for industry.
Table 4. Aluminum containers: % breakdown per sector of apparent use.
Beverages 59.10%
Food 19.90%
Cosmetics-Pharma 20.20%
Other 0.80%
Total 100.00%
source: Packaging in Figures elaboration on ISTAT variations giving assumption for 2022.

Dimensions and characteristics of the Italian aluminium packaging market

The aluminium used for the production of packaging includes the stock of cans used for the production of beverage cans, the foil stock used both in the production of thin foil and capsules, the can bodies for food boxes and the tablets used in the production of canisters.

The alloys that make up the different products are countless and vary according to the type of production and the different uses. In 2022 aluminium packaging recorded a positive production trend: +1.2%, with 154,000 tonnes. The trend of the individual types varies.

  • Trays and “other thin packaging” recorded positive trends, while containers, closures and thin sheeting ell compared to 2021. Production is supported by the internal market, with exports recording -13% and imports falling by 7.7%. Various types of empty packaging were produced in 2022: 27.2% is attributable to containers, followed at 24.8% by “others”, inside of which there are thin sheets for closing yogurts, tubes, covers for wine closure capsules. 20.1% of share is attributable to closures, while 18.5% is intended for the food trays category. Completing the breakdown, thin sheets account for 9.3%.
  • On the basis of the analyses carried out using the Italian packaging Institute’s Data Bank, in which the trends of packaging mixes of 100 user sectors are analysed, the intended use of aluminium packaging is as follows: 59.1% drink cans, 20.2% containers for pharmaceutical and cosmetics use, 19.8% tines for food preserves, and 0.9% “other”.

The recycling of metal packaging

Thanks to the incessant work of the supply chain consortia in the CONAI system, the end-of-life of the packaging is assigned to recycling, with constantly growing percentages. On the basis of the latest data made available by the RICREA Consortium, in 2022 steel packaging sent to recycling reached 490 t/000, that is to say, 80.6% of the amount issued on the market, with results already exceeding by 0.6% the legal targets established for 2030. The consortium that deals with the recycling and recovery of aluminium packaging is CIAL and on the basis of the latest analyses, in 2022 packaging sent for recycling reached 60,200 tonnes, that is 73.6% of the amount issued on the market. Again in this case, therefore, the recycling targets for 2030 have already been exceeded.

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