Aluminum Can Scores High in Recycling

A study commissioned by the International Aluminium Institute (IAI) on the recycling of three beverage packaging materials – aluminum, glass, and plastic (PET) – shows that aluminum cans contribute the most to the circular economy internationally.

The aluminum can was first mass-produced by the Coors Brewing Company in the 1950s to improve the taste of bottled beer and offer a more sustainable container compared to steel cans. So, the issue of sustainability was already topical back then. Today, more than 70 percent of the material used in aluminum cans is already recycled into new products – twice as much as glass (34 percent) and almost twice as much as plastic (40 percent). According to IAI’s recent study on beverage container recycling, more glass and plastic bottles end up in landfills compared to aluminum cans because they are not collected in a targeted manner. In addition, losses in the recycling system are three times higher for PET and glass bottles than for aluminum cans.

Independent consulting firm Eunomia Research and Consulting was commissioned by IAI to analyze data from five regions: Brazil, China, Europe, Japan, and the United States. The study examined the losses incurred when recycling aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic bottles (polyethylene terephthalate – PET) at the end of their life cycle. The study also looked at collection, sorting, reprocessing, and thermal processing, as well as closed-loop and open-loop recycling.

Ramon Arratia, Vice President of Global Public Affairs at Ball Corporation, comments, „While no beverage container has yet reached its full circular potential, aluminum is outperforming glass and plastic (PET) in all areas of the waste management system. Today, the aluminum can is the most recycled beverage container in the world. After being collected by consumers and fed into the recycling loop, it has an unrivaled 90 percent efficiency rate when sorted, reprocessed, and remelted. By comparison, glass comes in at 67 percent and PET at 66 percent. In this context, aluminum can be described as an ideal material for a circular economy. Especially, when we consider how much carbon can be saved through recycling.“

Andrew Wood, Group Executive Strategy & Business Development at Alumina Limited, says, „The collection rate of used aluminum cans is about 18 percent higher than PET bottles and 28 percent higher than glass. PET and single-use glass bottles are more likely to end up in landfills or waterways because they are not collected. This is likely to lead to higher demand for recycled and primary aluminum in a world focused on decarbonization.“

Marlen Bertram, Director Scenarios & Forecasts at IAI explains, „As our institute celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, we looked back at our long history of data collection, analysis, and modeling. Aluminum is one of the most easily recycled materials on the planet. Given the economic and environmental benefits of this material to the global economy, IAI is committed to returning end-of-life products to the recycling loop.“