REPORT: Aluminum Can Maintains Position as Most Sustainable Beverage Package | The Aluminum Association

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REPORT: Aluminum Can Maintains Position as Most Sustainable Beverage Package

September 9, 2019

A newly released report by the Aluminum Association and the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) shows that aluminum cans continue to outperform competitive packaging types on a number of key sustainability metrics.

The new report – “The Aluminum Can Advantage: Key Sustainability Performance Indicators 2019” – finds that consumers recycle aluminum cans at nearly double the rate of glass or plastic bottles and that average recycled content for an aluminum can produced in the United States rose from 70 to 73 percent, compared to 23 percent for glass and 3 percent for plastic. In addition, the report found that the aluminum can scrap is dramatically more valuable than glass or plastic in the recycling bin. Because of this, aluminum effectively subsidizes the recycling of less valuable material in the recycling stream. The full report is available at www.aluminum.org/CanAdvantage

Summary charts detail the findings below:

“Can manufacturers take great pride in providing the most sustainable package in the world,” said Robert Budway, President & CEO of CMI. “When consumers have finished enjoying their favorite beverages in aluminum cans, they should go the extra mile to recycle aluminum cans. Cans are the backbone of our country’s recycling system, and every can properly recycled makes a significant, positive impact in saving resources for future generations.”
 
“The aluminum can continues to out-perform the competition on virtually every measure of environmental performance,” said Lauren Wilk, Vice President for Policy & International Trade at the Aluminum Association. “During a time when more and more consumers are demanding sustainable products, aluminum’s inherent value and infinite recyclability provides a unique competitive advantage for the can.”  
 
The new study tracks a number of different sustainability “key performance indicators” for the aluminum beverage can including industry recycling rate, consumer recycling rate, recycled content and value of material. Taken together, these indicators provide a holistic view of the sustainability performance of the can as a guide for consumers, customers, non-governmental organizations, policymakers and other stakeholders across the value chain. Key findings in the 2019 report include:
  • The industry recycling rate, which factors in used beverage container (UBC) imports and exports, remained basically steady in 2017 and 2018 at 63.3 and 63.6 percent, respectively. This exceeds the 20-year average industry recycling rate of 59.1 percent and is an indicator of the industry’s commitment to using recycled material in aluminum can production.
  • The consumer recycling rate for aluminum beverage cans jumped nearly 5 points to 49.8 percent in 2018 from 45.1 percent in 2017. The 20-year average for the aluminum can recycling rate is 50.1 percent.
  • The average recycled content of an aluminum can (last updated in 2014) rose from 70 to 73 percent, far exceeding rival packaging types such as glass and plastic.
  • The aluminum can remains by far the most valuable package in the recycling bin, with a value per ton of $1,317/ton compared to $299/ton for plastic and a negative value of $20/ton for glass.
“For every 5 percent increase in consumer recycling [of aluminum], approximately $100 million in aluminum value is saved from landfills,” Budway added. “It is no exaggeration to say that the modern recycling system could not work economically without the contributions of aluminum.”        
 
Multiple independent studies have concluded that aluminum is the only beverage container type in the recycling bin that generates a net profit for municipal recycling programs. For example, a study of the “Blue Box” curbside program in Ontario, Canada, showed that aluminum cans brought in $290 per ton of material collected in 2018 (after costs) while glass and plastic cost the system money. Similarly, according to CalRecycle data, aluminum cans generate $831 per ton collected in California’s bottle deposit system (after costs) while plastic and glass cost the system $253 and $120 respectively per ton of material collected.   
 
“The economic logic is simple – the more aluminum we can return back to the recycling stream, the healthier the overall system,” Wilk said.
 
Each year in the United States roughly 45 billion cans – more than $800 million worth of aluminum – end up in landfills, the equivalent of eleven 12-packs of cans for every person in the United States. The aluminum can industry supports efforts to increase recycling through public education, advocacy for public policy to increase the quantity and quality of recovered aluminum and engagement with groups, including the Recycling Partnership, a multi-material nonprofit working with local municipalities to measurably improve residential curbside recycling programs and infrastructure.
 
For more information and to view the full report, please visit www.aluminum.org/CanAdvantage
 
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About The Aluminum Association
The Aluminum Association represents aluminum production and jobs in the United States, ranging from primary production to value added products to recycling, as well as suppliers to the industry. The Association is the industry’s leading voice, providing global standards, business intelligence, sustainability research and industry expertise to member companies, policymakers and the general public. The aluminum industry helps manufacturers produce sustainable and innovative products, including more fuel-efficient vehicles, recyclable packaging, greener buildings and modern electronics.  In the U.S., the aluminum industry supports $174 billion in economic activity and nearly 700,000 jobs. For more information visit https://www.aluminum.org, on Twitter @AluminumNews or at Facebook.com/AluminumAssociation.

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