FEATURE - Aluminium cans safe from PET threat for now
LONDON - Aluminium cans are strong, light-weight, impermeable and recyclable. But there is another product available to the soft drinks sector which can lay claim to all of the above and more - this product is PET.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a plastic resin and a type of polyester formed by combining two monomers called monoethylene glycol (MEG) and purified terephthalic acid (PTA).
\"PET bottles bring in different kinds of versatility - their shape make the product stand out on the shelf. Also, the fact that they are resealable gives PET bottles a big consumer advantage,\" said Richard Lamming, public affairs manager at the British Soft Drinks Association.
The first PET carbonated soft drink bottles appeared on the U.S. market in 1977 - a comparatively young product considering that the aluminium can was first used as early as 1960.
Though similar in their suitability to contain soft drinks, the choice of the soft drinks consumer often comes down to aesthetic design as well as social trends and this is where PET bottles may have the upper hand, according to some experts.
\"It is a lifestyle thing - you see young people all over the place carrying plastic water and soft drinks bottles. Lots of people do prefer cans, but 330ml is a lot to drink, especially for a child,\" said Jane Bickerstaff, director of Incpen, the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment.
Also weighing in their favour is the fact that PET bottles are available both in a number of colours and clear, allowing the consumer to see what they are drinking.
Aluminium cans - heralded as the soft drinks receptacles of the future in the late 1960s when Coca Cola Co. and the Pepsi Bottling Group Inc began full-scale commercial distribution of twelve-ounce cans - are, however, opaque and hide the product inside.
Opaque containers do not let in light which may affect the flavour of the product, and once opened cans cannot be resealed, meaning that the beverage has to be consumed within a certain period of time or lose its carbonation.
Though aluminium industry analysts agree that PET is eating into aluminium\'s share of the soft drinks packaging market, cause for real concern is minimal when weighing up both products from an environmental perspective, experts say.
\"I think the difference (between aluminium and PET) is marginal, to be honest. The question is how resource-efficient each is overall - it has to be right from start to finish.
\"PET definitely wins more brownie points upstream, as aluminium is more resource-intensive so it costs more to produce,\" Bickerstaff said.
\"But, on the other hand, aluminium is cheaper than PET to recycle, and it has a higher scrap value - it can go back into planes, cars, you name it...while PET\'s end-use is far narrower,\" she added.
With growth in both aluminium cans and PET bottles expected to continue in tandem with an ever-expanding soft drinks industry, there appears to be no immediate cause for concern that PET will wrench away aluminium\'s soft drinks market share.
But the status quo could change if the benchmark three-month aluminium price on the London Metal Exchange rebounds sharply from its currently steady level at $1,324 a tonne.
Prices rocketed to $2,195 at the end of January 1995, and a similar scenario could see soft drinks manufacturers switching to the other alternatives available, analysts said.
Nevertheless, with the aluminium market blighted by over-supply and sluggish demand, a price rally towards anywhere near the levels reached in 1995 is unlikely to materialise for the foreseeable future, analysts said.
Story by Lorna Hutchinson
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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