Aggressive campaigns to slow the onslaught of single-use plastics have gained momentum for years, though the push has taken a backseat through COVID-19, with demand spiking for plastic packaging for carry out and sanitizers, among other products.
Amidst the disruption, consumer goods producer Hand in Hand has made a bold move to stay rooted on the anti-single-use plastic trail. With help from global supplier Trivium Packaging, Hand in Hand just rolled out a recyclable aluminum bottle for its hand soap. The Philadelphia, Pa.-based company plans to move all its liquid products to aluminum packaging by 2021.
Aluminum is infinitely recyclable. It requires only 5% of the energy to produce products from recycled aluminum than from virgin metals. And it doesn’t break down, unlike plastics that turn into microplastics that have entered the environment and sometimes the food chain.
Recyclers like aluminum because it does not have to be cleaned before it’s recycled (though clean material is ideal) and, depending on market conditions, they can sell it for a good profit.
Trivium has done well attracting brand owners looking to be good stewards. But there’s more that interests them, says Michael Mapes, CEO of Trivium Packaging.
“Companies like Hand in Hand also select aluminum because it looks cool. Consumers like the look and feel of metal, and it stands out in the sea of plastic containers on the shelf,” he says.
Trivium worked with the brand’s design team and marketing folks on a packaging design that meets the brand’s needs.
“There was a lot of ideation to come up with the design, shape and style. It’s not a one-size-fits-all for every packaging product,” says Mapes.
The technical process itself was fairly simple; raw aluminum or a slug is extruded, or pushed through an orifice into a die, to form it. The rust-proof bottle is decorated, and the top is threaded so that it can function as a dispenser.
Bill Glaab, co-founder of Hand in Hand Soap, says the company’s first priority is to make a packaging decision after taking a hard look at the supply chain.
“We try to look at the overall impact our brand is having on the environment via the supply chain to make sure we are being responsible.
Many of the ways to be sustainable have been challenging, but there are avenues as a brand if you want to go through the time, effort, and expense to do the right thing if possible,” he says.
Altogether avoiding plastic packaging is near impossible for consumer goods companies, but moving to an aluminum bottle was a step in the direction Hand in Hand has set its sights on.
“By going to an aluminum bottle, we made 10 million pieces that are not plastic. For us it was a big deal as only a small fraction of plastic gets recycled,” Glaab says.
The company started with its hand soap, one of several of its products, because it could move it at relatively high volumes.
“We still have to scale, and as a small company we needed to start with a product that would move through mass channels; not just through national grocery stores,” says Glaab.
Hand in Hand’s aluminum bottle-packaged soap is available through Whole Foods, North American wholesaler United Natural Foods, Target, CVS, and Walmart. For every unit sold, the company donates a bar of soap and a month of drinking water to kids in need.
It’s been received well since its May 2020 launch, having earned bronze recognition at Canmaker magazine’s 2020 Can of the Year Awards.
“I think people are excited and surprised to see hand soap in aluminum. I think it gets them thinking about what alternatives are out there,” surmises Glaab. He says customers routinely call and email saying they like the aluminum bottle concept, and he figures they may keep the dispenser around longer and refill it.
Trivium is also paying attention to consumers. A report the company released earlier this year, based on a survey of 15,000 respondents, found:
- 67% identify as environmentally aware and “environmentally friendly;” recyclable packaging is important to more than two of three consumers;
- 74% say they are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging;
- 59% say they are less likely to buy a product in packaging that is harmful to the environment.
Key packaging attributes are not just that it’s aluminum, but that the container is a bottle rather than a can.
[Unlike with cans] “We can shape the aluminum in many ways and make amazingly cool bottles. And because aluminum bottles are thicker than cans, they are sturdier,” says Mapes.
Trivium was formed over a year ago through the merger of Exal Corporation and Ardagh’s Food & Specialty business. Since the merger, in addition to its work for Hand in Hand, the company has made aluminum bottles for clients in the personal care, household care, and beverage spaces including Chateau St. Michelle, Gaze Wine, and Cutter.
Aluminum bottles are not a new concept, though the trend is accelerating, notes Mapes.
“We saw a move over a decade ago to the introduction of aluminum bottles for beer made by Anheuser-Busch. Over the last three to five years there have been new categories of products. And there are more coming out that I can’t speak of now, but they are mega brands,” says Mapes.
The Exal and Ardagh Food & Specialty merger has created one of the largest metal packaging companies in the world, according to Trivium. Under this merger, Trivium, headquartered in the Netherlands, will operate more than 60 locations worldwide.