Dr. Biele, thyssenkrupp Rasselstein launched the new “Weissblech kommt weiter” platform at the end of March. What was the motivation behind the project?
Peter Biele: At the end of last year, we commissioned a survey of consumers about their knowledge of packaging materials, especially tinplate. At the same time, we wanted to know which trends are currently setting the tone in the consumer sector. On the one hand, the result is not very surprising. The trend toward greater sustainability has also long since reached the packaging industry. In addition to classic criteria such as shelf life and product taste, consumers now attach considerable importance to the recyclability of food packaging. What surprised us, on the other hand, was that consumers do not correctly assess the recycling rates of the various types of packaging. For example, the recycling rate of tinplate in Germany was estimated to be at 50%, while in fact it is more than 91%. This is precisely where we come in with our “Weissblech kommt weiter“platform. We want to educate consumers and show why the material properties of tinplate make it a particularly sustainable product and an important part of our circular economy.
thyssenkrupp Rasselstein is also a co-founder of “Initiative Lebensmitteldose.” Why is there now yet another platform in addition to “Weissblech kommt weiter”?
“Initiative Lebensmitteldose” has been in existence for more than 20 years and is primarily aimed at the food industry and food retailers. Our new platform, which we have launched on our own rather than in association with the value chain this time, is specifically addressing consumers. We want to offer interested consumers insights into the manufacturing and recycling process and show why tinplate stands out from other types of packaging. We are using both initiatives to pursue a holistic approach to address retailers and the food industry, but also consumers.
To what extent do you also want to address politicians?
As a member of APEAL, the Association of European Producers of steel for packaging, we obviously have a good overview of the European market overall. We are observing that recycling rates vary greatly in the different EU member states. In some countries, the recycling rate is below 70%, while in others it is well over 90%. Overall, the recycling rate averages 84%. Recycling needs to be expanded in some countries to further increase the overall rate. We are therefore developing concepts with APEAL for uniform standards in Europe. For example, we are making specific proposals for improved collection, sorting, and recycling of steel for packaging. We are also campaigning specifically to establish minimum quality standards for steel scrap to improve the value chain, and we are calling for more consumer education. On all these points, European legislators in particular are asked to show consumers and companies the way with more transparent rules and uniform standards. This would be a way for European waste management to become much more sustainable and to increase the amount of packaging steel that is returned for high-quality recycling.
thyssenkrupp Rasselstein’s parent company thyssenkrupp Steel Europe was also very active on the topic of sustainability. From as early as 2030, CO2 emissions from steel production are to be largely reduced. Hydrogen instead of coal is the motto. Will thyssenkrupp Rasselstein also benefit from climate-neutral steel?
We can only effectively counter climate change if all sectors are switching to climate-neutral production. We intend to be at the forefront of this development. thyssenkrupp Steel Europe aims to produce the first quantities of “green steel” as early as 2022 and to only offer climate-neutral steel in the future – currently scheduled from 2050 on. At thyssenkrupp Rasselstein, we will also exploit this potential for ourselves. In the foreseeable future, we intend to offer our customers “green packaging steel” in addition to the existing range – of course, in the customary premium quality. Thanks to its inherent recycling capabilities, packaging steel already has immense potential for sustainability. The continual reduction of emissions during production makes it an almost 100% ecological product. In terms of sustainability, we are therefore going the last mile with packaging steel.
thyssenkrupp Rasselstein is a traditional company that has been producing in Andernach for more than 100 years. Even after all this time, there is certainly room for innovations: Where do you see innovations for packaging steel products in the years to come?
Clearly, one of the innovations is our new coating currently being built on our plant site and is expected to produce special chromium-coated packaging steel based on chromium(III) instead of chromium(VI) as of 2022. From then on, the new “trivalent chromium coating technology” will ensure the usual high product quality without the use of chromium(VI) in the manufacturing processes. The technology is based on a patent from Tata Steel Ijmuiden B.V. for which we have acquired a license and have further developed the product together with the licensor.
For tinplate, we are gradually replacing the previous chromium-containing passivation with our rasselstein® CFPA chromium-free passivation, which is REACH-compliant and based on titanium. The product continues to effectively limit tin oxide growth during storage and otherwise offers the same functionalities as chromium-based passivations. We are very much looking forward to supplying our customers with these two REACH-compliant products, which are not only sustainable, but reliable and well-performing in a timely manner. This will enable us to do even more for occupational safety, health, and environmental protection together with our customers throughout the value chain within the EU.
In addition, by using innovative packaging steel grades, we are continuing to work on enabling our customers to reduce the weight of the cans that they are producing. In particular, our rasselstein® Solidflex innovation is worth mentioning, which allows significant reductions in thickness, especially for aerosol can components and easy open ends.
And, of course, we are also continuing to pursue projects to break new ground in the recycling process.