Four Keys to Circular Recycling | The Aluminum Association

Four Keys to Circular Recycling

An Aluminum Container Design Guide

In recent years, the aluminum industry in the United States has noted the increased use of elements including plastic labels and tops, shrink sleeves, adhesives and other non-aluminum components in what have traditionally been single-material aluminum containers.The introduction of these contaminants into the recycling stream is diluting the value of aluminum can recycling, causing operational and compliance problems for recyclers and creating safety issues for workers.

While the aluminum industry recognizes that container design is a dynamic and ever-evolving field, it is important for companies to understand how design choices can impact the recycling of aluminum containers at the end of life. Aluminum container recycling is critical to both the economics and the environmental impact of the product.

In partnership with our member companies – which are responsible for all aluminum can sheet production and the majority of aluminum used beverage can (UBC) recycling in the U.S. – the Aluminum Association has developed the “Four Keys to Circular Recycling: An Aluminum Container Design Guide” to highlight issues and recommend best practices to maximize the economic and environmental benefits of aluminum containers through efficient recycling.

Download the Aluminum Container Design Guide here.

We hope this guide will be helpful to brand owners and packaging engineers in their efforts to design containers that meet consumer needs while maintaining the intrinsic value of aluminum and facilitating its recovery and reuse.

The guide concludes with four keys for container designers to consider when working with aluminum:
  • Key #1 – Use Aluminum: To maintain and increase the efficiency and economics of recycling, aluminum container designs should maximize the percentage of aluminum and minimize the use of non-aluminum materials.
  • Key #2 –  Make Plastic Removable: To the extent that designers use non-aluminum material in their designs, this material should be easily removable and labeled to encourage separation.
  • Key #3 –  Avoid the Addition of Non-Aluminum Design Elements Whenever Possible: Minimize the use of foreign materials in aluminum container design. PVC and chlorine-based plastics, which can create operational, safety and environmental hazards at aluminum recycling facilities, should not be used.
  • Key #4 – Consider Alternative Technologies: Explore design alternatives to avoid adding non-aluminum material to aluminum containers. 

Aluminum cans are the most sustainable beverage package on virtually every measure. Aluminum cans have a higher recycling rate and far more recycled content (73 percent on average) than competing package types.

They are lightweight, stackable and strong, allowing brands to package and transport more beverages using less material. Most of all, aluminum cans are recycled over and over again in a true "closed loop" recycling process. Glass and plastic are typically "down-cycled" into products like carpet fiber or landfill liner.

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