Social and ecological issues

When considering the ecological and social implications of using metal, its non-renewable nature is the main concern. Metal cannot be grown and is a finite resource - there is only a certain amount within the Earth’s crust.

To create aluminium, the ore bauxite is mined as it contains aluminium hydroxide minerals. The bauxite is purified so that aluminium oxide is produced, and the aluminium is extracted from this through electrolysis. Huge amounts of energy are used to extract aluminium and convert it into a usable material. Recycling it requires some energy to make it usable again, but nowhere near as much.

Steel is made in huge and exceedingly hot cauldrons. Its production uses a lot of energy and contributes approximately 5 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Molten steel being poured from a large metal cauldron, causing sparks, in a steel production plant.

Whenever environmental impact is being reduced, ‘The 6 Rs’ can be called on to ensure an in-depth analysis has been done. The 6 Rs can be considered by the designer, the manufacturer and the customer.

Considering the 6 Rs when designing food packaging

The 6 Rs, reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink, refuse and repair illustrated around a rubbish bin.

The 6 Rs

The term ‘the 6 Rs’ can be applied to the design of new products or when a product is finished with, used up or no longer wanted. Here are some questions to prompt 6 Rs thinking:

  • Reduce - Can the amount of metal used be reduced? Can the metal be bought locally to reduce product miles?
  • Reuse - Can the metal be reused for another purpose once a product is finished with?
  • Recycle - Can the metal be disposed of correctly so that it can be recycled?
  • Rethink - Can the way a product is made be redesigned so that less metal is used?
  • Refuse - Refusing to use metal could be a consideration; could a material that is sustainable be used instead?
  • Repair - When a product is broken, can it be repaired rather than discarded?