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Pyrolysis Brings the EU Aluminum Recycling Target within Reach

As a sustainable fresh food discounter, Lidl in Germany is concerned not only  with the products that it sells but also with the packaging they come in. Customers have been paying much closer attention to the packaging used by retailers and their carbon footprint in recent years, and Lidl is well aware of this. The European Union has also revised the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EC), and the proposed Packaging &  Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) sets out the recycling and recyclable material targets that packaging will need to meet.

This has motivated Lidl in Germany, the aluminum recycling specialist PreZero Pyral, and the aerosol can manufacturer TUBEX to take action and investigate how to increase the amount of recycled material in packaging using the latest technology. Their joint efforts are already generating results, with the aerosol cans for Cien deodorants now containing up to 50 percent recycled aluminum.

This development is good for the environment and good for customers, because there is no end of potential in the aluminum that is collected from household waste ready to be transformed into new products and packaging:

4 tons of bauxite

Recovering one ton of aluminum from the waste stream can save up to four tons of bauxite compared to primary aluminum production.

Up to 50 percent recycled aluminum per can

The aluminum aerosol cans used for Cien deodorants already contain 25 to 50 percent recycled aluminum – and this figure is increasing all the time.

12,725 kWh of electricity

Recycling aluminum can save up to 12,725 kWh of electricity per ton compared to primary production. That is equivalent to a reduction of 19.3  tons of CO2 emissions. It also uses significantly fewer chemicals – 1.8 tons less, in fact.

The Challenge

Acting for the Benefit of People and the Environment Means Looking at the Entire Loop  

Lidl sees resource-efficient processes as the basis for success. For the food retailer, this means that it is not enough just to focus on the purchasing of packaging material – especially in light of the PPWR. If Lidl wants to fulfill the requirements of EU regulations and remain competitive for many years to come, a consistent sustainability strategy is essential. Lidl and PreZero have tackled the challenges head-on, addressing everything from packaging licensing and design to the disposal, sorting, and proper treatment of recyclable aluminum.


The Solution

Consumer Needs as a Starting Point

Lidl paid close attention to consumer expectations when choosing and designing the packaging for Cien, its high-quality own brand. Consumers today are more interested in the recycling and sustainability of products than ever before. They want affordable yet high-quality products that are produced sustainably and can be disposed of in an environmentally friendly  way. 

“Nowadays, our customers want more than just high-quality products at great prices – they also want packaging, for example aluminum cans, that is both functional and visually attractive. We are also seeing a growing interest in the careful use of resources. Customers don’t just want to know what the products are made of – they also want to know about the carbon footprint that they leave behind. We are working hard to meet these complex requirements.” Marcel Petrick, Packaging Purchasing International at Lidl

It all starts with the basic requirements for the packaging. The focus is primarily on optimizing sustainability and meeting customer requirements, so Lidl and the packaging engineers at PreZero have created a sustainable packaging design that ticks all these boxes.

PreZero Pyral then recovers and delivers aluminum raw materials in the form and alloy required based on these specifications. The company operates a resource-efficient pyrolysis plant, an in-house developed fluidized bed system (Pyradec®), and a precise state-of-the-art laser sorting system at the Freiberg plant. This combination enables the extensive mechanical sorting and thermal recycling of materials. The different types of metal are then separated according to type. Individual alloys are separated and processed into high-quality aluminum raw materials, which can be tailored to suit customer requirements.

“The better we understand customer requirements and the more connected we are to our partners in the loop, the more effective our solutions will be. Each new customer requirement and each new regulation will push us to become even better.” says Andreas Reissner, Senior Managing Director of PreZero Pyral GmbH

The input materials for PreZero Pyral come from municipal recycling collections at private households – in Germany the yellow bags/bins system or recycling bins.   To ensure that packaging reaches the right place and consumers separate their product packaging correctly, packaging distributors need a license. Lidl’s partner is PreZero Dual GmbH, another company of Schwarz Group, which has been operating in all 16 German federal states with its own dual system since January 1, 2021. Once the packaging has been correctly sorted ready for collection, the next important step is for this material to be collected and sorted by the environmental service provider. After all, if this doesn’t happen then the recyclables won't make it to the recycling plant.

Marcel Petrick, Verpackunseinkauf International bei Lidl
“Our close cooperation with PreZero has enabled us to consider every single step of the cycle – from the design of the Cien aluminum can and the manufacturing processes to the licensing and return of the packaging to the recycling loop. This means that we were able to implement the project quickly and efficiently, in a further boost for the circular economy."

Marcel Petrick, Packaging Purchasing International at Lidl

The Result

Up to 50 Percent Recycled Aluminum per Can of Deodorant

Lidl and PreZero have made fantastic progress in their journey toward a circular economy, and it would not have been possible without this holistic view of the product and packaging. “We are becoming more sustainable, rising to customer expectations, and achieving the EU recycling targets faster because we can see the bigger picture and look at the entire loop. With recycled material content of up to 50 percent for the Cien aluminum monobloc can depending on the product line, we have already come a long way, but we are not finished yet: We are working hard to improve even further and implement this real-life example with even more customers. We are particularly delighted that our production partner TUBEX has been awarded the German Packaging Award 2021 for the aluminum monobloc design,” says Andreas Reissner, Senior Managing Director of PreZero Pyral GmbH. Staying true to the vision of “New thinking for a cleaner tomorrow,” PreZero and Lidl are setting an example and showing how companies can take proactive steps to become more environmentally friendly and support a circular economy.

About Lidl in Germany

The food retailer Lidl is part of the Schwarz Group, with headquarters in Neckarsulm, and is one of the leading food retailers in Germany and Europe. Lidl currently operates over 12,200 stores in 31 countries worldwide. In Germany, some 100,000 employees work across more than 3,250 stores, 39 regional distribution centers, and administrative sites to ensure customer satisfaction. Dynamics in day-to-day implementation, top performance when it comes to results and fairness in dealing with each other characterize the experience of working at Lidl. Since 2008, the Lidl online shop has been offering non-food products from Lidl's own brands in addition to brands in various categories and price segments, wines and spirits as well as travel and other services. As a discount retailer, Lidl focuses greatly on value for money for its customers. Simplicity and process orientation determine day-to-day work. Lidl takes responsibility for society and the environment and focuses on six focus areas when it comes to sustainability: protecting the climate, respecting biodiversity, conserving resources, acting fairly, promoting health, and engaging in dialog. Lidl in Germany generated revenue of 27 billion euro in the 2022 fiscal year.

About PreZero Pyral

PreZero Pyral GmbH, based in Saxony, Germany, is one of the largest aluminium recyclers in Europe and has been working on solutions for intelligent recycling loops for more than 15 years. With a market share of 60%, the company is the market and technology leader for lightweight aluminium packaging in Germany. Around 3,000 tonnes of aluminium-containing waste from the German Yellow Bag is sent to the recycling plant in Freiberg, Saxony, every month. Aluminium can be recycled almost infinitely and is 95% more efficient than conventional production, making it a climate-friendly alternative with great potential. This innovative recovery of recyclable materials is made possible by the combination of unique plant technology. In the PreZero Pyral pyrolysis plant, the scrap is thermally cleaned of organic and other impurities and the valuable aluminium is recovered in an alloy-free form.  This process is not only innovative but also unique. Because only aluminium that is recycled without alloying can be properly returned to the loop.