Aluminium and Food, Correct Scientific Messages

Evento Centroal – AFFG a Roma, dedicato alla corretta informazione sul packaging d’alluminio per alimenti. Dialogo aperto con le istituzioni e con gli opinion maker dell’ambientalismo

di Giuseppe Giordano

AFFG – Aluminium For Future Generations is the institutional communication program of the aluminium industry launched in 1998 at European level by the main companies in the industry and developed in Italy by Centroal, which, within the Italian Association of Non-Ferrous Metal Industries (ASSOMET), represents the companies of the aluminium segment. AFFG is the instrument used by the light metal industry to communicate with institutions, dealing with the political inclinations and legislative initiatives which may concern or in any case influence its activity. Within this framework, AFFG Italia, coordinated by Strategic Advice, a consulting company based in Rome specializing in institutional relations and strategic communication, organized an event in Rome on November 12th, 2018, structured in two moments dedicated to particularly relevant and current themes for the light metal system. The first was focused on Aluminium and Health, the second on the outlook of the global markets and the themes of tariffs and access to raw materials. In this issue of the magazine we shall provide a summary of the first event, while the second will be the object of a detailed report in issue 1/2019 of A&L.
The meeting was introduced by the Director of Strategic Advice, Gabriele Cirieco: the event was attended by about forty journalists from magazines specializing in the food and health segments, members of environmentalist associations and managers of the aluminium industry with experience in packaging and in products for kitchens and restaurants.
Centroal’s President Mauro Cibaldi described in his speech the current status of the Italian aluminium industry, presenting the most interesting data referred to the segment which underlined the recovery of revenues after the 2008 crisis, reaching as from 2016 an overall aluminium consumption which remarkably exceeds pre-crisis levels, reaching almost 2.2 million tons, forecast for the current year. This figure places Italy at the second place in Europe, with a per capita consumption which is steadily in the upper bracket of the world market.
Mauro Cibaldi then briefly presented a series of applications of aluminium extrusions, rolled products and foundry castings for the Italian market, outlining the role of the light metal in the development of circular economy and in the global energy saving process. All of this in consideration of the extraordinary positive attitude of aluminium towards being recycled, which means that, having been used for a product, when the product’s working life comes to an end the metal may be used again to produce the same object with properties identical to those of the original product. This property led to the development of a secondary metal market and of the products which may be made with it, the latter being very interesting especially in Italy, since the primary production field is an industry with high energy demands. Regarding energy aspects relative to the whole aluminium machining sector, Mauro Cibaldi went into detail regarding the topic underlining the difference in energy costs to be found in different countries, elements which of course heavily influence competitiveness.

Aluminium and sustainable development
The second speaker, Riccardo Guidetti from the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences of the University of Milan presented a report on “Sustainable development and aluminium”, introducing the theme with the definition of sustainable development established by the World Commission for the Environment (WCED): “Development capable of satisfying present-day requirements without jeopardizing the possibility for future generations of satisfying theirs” (WCED, 1987). The definition contains a fundamental ethical principle, that is, the responsibility of today’s generations towards future generations, thereby touching at least two aspects of environmental sustainability, the maintenance of resources and the environmental balance of our planet.
Sustainability is very important in different sectors; four interacting types of sustainability may be defined, environmental, economic, social (the capability of guaranteeing conditions of equally distributed well-being) and institutional sustainability (the capability of guaranteeing conditions of stability, democracy, participation and justice). If, as we said, these types of sustainability interact, the intersection represents sustainable development.
Guidetti then briefly introduced what the United Nations’ Organization defines as the new frontier of sustainability, which may be interpreted using the definition of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) in the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.
The presentation went on to analyze the relationship between sustainability and aluminium: the light metal has always been considered an “environmentally friendly” material because of its capability of being reused, even in less complex times, as it requires energy for primary production but this is recovered thanks to a prolonged life cycle. In this respect, interesting data were presented concerning the decrease in energy consumption by the aluminium industry during the past two decades, accompanies by the reduction in the emission of greenhouse gas deriving from production cycles (production, recycling etc). The decreasing trend of these emissions has been intense, reaching a global value of 50% less than in 1977.
The last part of the presentation was dedicated to the description of the current norms and regulations framework for the safeguarding of consumers as regards aluminium objects which come in contact with food. The Italian Institute of Health (ISS) studied the possible migration of aluminium from these products. The final result of this activity was the Ministry’s Decree dated April 17th, 2007, defining producer’s duties right up to the definition of the conformity declaration.

Aluminum and the conservation of food
The third speaker was Ciro Sinagra, R&D manager of the Laminazione Sottile Group, who presented very simply and clearly the essence of the key topics regarding the characteristics of aluminium used in contact with and to preserve foods. A report centered on Aluminium and Food, strictly technical in its contents, rich in electro-chemical concepts, with referrals to the concepts of corrosion and protection, migration and protection by application of coatings, which was understandable and interesting for the whole audience thanks to the deep technical knowledge and communication capabilities of the speaker. Ciro Sinagra’s conclusions, based on scientific data proven unmistakably in every context, is that aluminium is perfect for the preservation of all foods except strongly salted or acidic ones, where it is known and has always been stated that special precautions should apply.
Stefano Stellini from CiAl, the fourth speaker with the presentation “Sustainability and circular economics of aluminium packaging”, illustrated what the consortium for the recovery of aluminium packaging (operating within the framework of CONAI ) achieved in terms of quantity of material and types of products recovered. This activity took place starting from the fundamental premise that aluminium corresponds perfectly to the properties of permanent materials, as 75% of all of the light metal ever produced (the first industrial aluminium productions date back to 1892) is still being used and in Europe the highest amount of aluminium per capita in the world is recycled. CiAl’s activity depends on various factors, such as, the limits of the legislation which created industry consortia; the first aim is to guarantee that the achievement of the minimum objectives in terms of recovery and recycling of used aluminium packaging may occur at sustainable costs leveraging on the metal’s intrinsic value. Last year by reusing 44,200 tons of aluminium packaging waste our country saved energy adding up to 141,000 tons of petroleum equivalent, and prevented the emission in the environment of 328,000 tons of CO2. CiAl would also like to highlight the social responsibility in the environmental domain of the companies in its industry, and as regards Italian municipalities (it is in contact with about 7,200 Italian towns which account for 88% of the whole population) it stimulated the development of separate waste collection. Finally, CiAl even develops special projects dedicated to a type of aluminium packaging for which specific recovery and recycling methods are defined and the most recent example is the one of coffee capsules which find it difficult to fit into traditional collection systems. Today the service is developed in about 50 Italian towns, such as, large cities such as Turin, Genoa, Milan, Verona, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples, Bari and Catania, which have dedicated collection points.
The last speaker was Danilo Amigoni from Pentole Agnelli, who focused his speech on Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) which is by now the basis of the system which guarantees the suitability of a product destined to come into contact with food.
Amigoni’s presentation offered a very detailed synthesis of the Italian and Community prescriptions in terms of contact with food and the complex industrial process which in principle is destined to interact with the health of the consumers. A very interesting description which helped to understand the attention and care dedicated to all operations and control instruments which relate to the food industry.
The conclusion, which was summed up by the debate which closed the event, is the awareness of the importance of aluminium in the packaging, food and beverage industry, because it is perfect to protect and preserve food for long periods of time. It is the ideal choice for vacuum packaging, impermeable to fluids, gases, dust and bacteria, preserves taste and does not allow contaminating factors to enter. In 2005 the Italian Health Institute had investigated on the possibility of migration from aluminium packaging to food, concluding that the results obtained rule out the existence of any risks for consumers’ health.