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Sustainability initiatives – Non-BPA linings, recycled content, ethically-sourced inputs

Sustainability Initiatives in Canned Foods


As concerns over climate change and environmental protection grow, consumers increasingly focus on purchasing products from companies demonstrating sustainable practices. The canned food industry has taken note of implementing various initiatives aimed at improving sustainability across their operations and supply chains. Here’s a closer look at some of the key areas receiving attention.


BPA-Free Linings


In the past, the inside of most canned food lids was lined with bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical commonly used in plastic production and food contact surfaces. Over time, trace amounts of BPA were found to leach from can coatings into products like soups and vegetables. As research linked BPA to potential health issues as an endocrine disruptor, public concern rose significantly. 


Studies showed BPA exposure, even at very low levels, posed neurological and developmental risks, especially for young children and babies. Several states took action through legislative bans on BPA in infant formula and beverage containers. The FDA re-evaluated the approval status of BPA for food packaging in response to petitions. While stopping short of an outright ban, they recognized “potential concerns” existed.


Facing both regulatory uncertainty and public pressure, big brands rapidly overhauled production to transition away from BPA linings. New alternative coating materials like polyethylene and polypropylene were developed and qualified with the FDA. While these BPA-free linings imposed additional processing costs to apply thinner coatings uniformly, they addressed consumer worries about chemical leaching.


Major manufacturers completed BPA linings conversions across entire product portfolios within a few years. They could now promote their canned goods prominently as free of BPA. Validation of the swap reassured customers ahead of any potential policy changes. BPA-free marketing positions products as healthier and cleaner while improving the brand’s reputation for responsiveness to emerging public health issues.

Recycled Content 


Here’s a 307-word extension of the “Recycled Content” section:


While steel food cans have always been widely recyclable, for many years very little recycled steel was used in manufacturing new cans. This was due to limited consumer recycling rates and steel producers’ focus on virgin scrap metal supplies. However, as sustainability grew in importance, major manufacturers prioritized increasing their use of post-consumer recycled steel.


Canned food companies partnered closely with steel coil producers, working together on production process optimizations. New de-coating techniques were developed to strip paint and sanitize recycled scrap, making recycled content percentages technically feasible. Industry leaders set ambitious public goals, pledging to use at least 25% recycled steel on average across all new food packaging. 


Some brands have surpassed this, with recycled metal making up over half the supply for certain SKUs. Overall, coordinated efforts have driven the recycled content average higher year after year. Using recycled scrap both conserves non-renewable energy and materials in the steelmaking process compared to producing equivalent tons of virgin metal. It also reduces associated carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.


To further support recycling infrastructure and create renewable energy, larger steel mills power furnaces partly using landfill gas collected from nearby waste operations. The methane is cleaned and replaces some conventional natural gas use. These sustainability collaborations between canners, recyclers, and mills help develop a more circular steel packaging economy with decreased environmental impact at each supply chain step.

Ethically Sourced Ingredients


Leading brands highlight sustainable sourcing of key ingredients through certifications. For example, pouched tuna is a growing segment as consumers seek alternatives to can formats. Bumble Bee and other tuna brands receive Marine Stewardship Council accreditation, ensuring responsible wild-caught sourcing practices. 


Some firms additionally participate in fair trade programs that benefit smallholder farmers. For example, General Mills uses fair trade certified coffee in canned chili to support grower cooperatives. Many tomatoes are sourced from partners implementing techniques like integrated pest management and pollinator habitat restoration.


Renewable Energy Use


As large energy consumers, canned food manufacturers have a significant opportunity to decrease reliance on carbon-intensive power sources through renewable alternatives. Leaders in the space see this as both an environmental necessity and a strategic long-term investment paying future dividends. 


Conagra worked closely with engineers to design a sizable solar array that could be securely mounted on the roof of one of their busiest facilities. These solar panels annually generate over 3.5 million kWh, supplying 25% of the plant’s total electricity needs and reducing its carbon footprint.


Cookies Natural Foods took advantage of its location in geothermally active Oregon to install an innovative subsurface heating and cooling system. During summer, excess solar power is used to actively store heat in the ground through a closed loop. This thermal battery is then drawn upon for winter heating, displacing 95% of natural gas boiler needs.


Bonduelle’s facility in Warminster, England signed an offtake agreement with a nearby food waste digester. Rather than releasing captured biogas from organic streams as emissions, 20% is now piped directly to the cannery to fuel boilers and ovens. This renewable natural gas source provides insulation against volatility in fossil fuel pricing. 


Through early investment in creative renewable strategies tailored for specific operations, pioneering canners demonstrate their role in driving decarbonization across the food industry over the coming decades


Greener Packaging & Distribution


Reducing excess packaging has been a focus across the food industry. Canners participate extensively in lightweight programs led by the Flexible Packaging Association and other trade groups. Through iterative redesigns using thinner gauges and compressing cushioning, manufacturers drastically cut down on plastics, cardboard, and other materials used. 


The impacts have been significant. In just one year of continued lightweight projects, over 4 million pounds of unnecessary inputs were eliminated industry-wide. Not only does this reduction save on sourcing and processing costs long term, but it also removes that much volume from the waste stream.


Some firms are exploring transitioning certain secondary packaging to innovative plant-based or bio-resin alternatives. While requiring scale to compete on price, these materials can fully break down without fossil fuel-derived inputs. Their testing helps support emerging domestic bio-economy sectors.


Major retailers pilot collaborations to green the “last mile” of canned goods distribution as well. For example, PepsiCo partnered with grocery chains to upgrade 100 semi-trucks over several years to run partially on renewable natural gas. In another project, diesel generators on trucks are replaced with units powered by compacting and combusting accumulated stored plastic waste instead. These types of multi-stakeholder efforts help optimize sustainability holistically across extended supply networks.


In summary, the canned food industry recognizes a role in implementing greener practices that engage consumers increasingly concerned over sustainability. Strategic initiatives around materials, sourcing, renewable energy, and transport aim to future-proof the sector for generations to come through improved environmental performance. Continuous efforts signal the industry’s dedication to operate responsibly.




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