Closing the infinite loop

“Infinitely recyclable” is a phrase you hear a lot in the canning and metal packaging industry, an accolade that sets the industry apart or perhaps above other packaging sectors that are grappling with their own sustainability credentials. It is what makes aluminium such a great material for our food and beverages and why the use of it in packaging is on the rise. However, this business of “infinite” even, in fact “recyclable” relies on its consumers doing just that: recycling it. Globally, we recycle an estimated 69% of our aluminium beverage containers, which is considerably higher than the 43% and 46% for PET and glass respectively, however there is plenty of room for growth.

If only 69% are being recycled, what happens to the rest? A pioneering scheme with Ball Corporation in Serbia is holding consumers accountable. The Smart Deposit Return Scheme uses serialised codes on its beverage containers so that they can be individually tracked throughout their, likely short, lifespan. Once consumers have finished their canned beverage, they return it to the recycling facility or drop-off point where it is scanned back in. It seems there may be no escape for serial non-recyclers if the scheme takes off and is expanded.

But consumers cannot be held entirely responsible; recycling information clarity is essential, as more than a third (35%) of Brits say clearer symbols or recycling guidance on product packaging would help them recycle more. Schemes to incentivise recycling may also prove beneficial, such as Hong Kong’s Green @ Community stores, the so called “Apple Store” of recycling centres, with its modern and clear layout that offers users GREEN$ in exchange for their recycling, which can be spent on items such as bamboo tissues, towels and recycling bags, to further their recycling goals and awareness. These stores appear in communities all over Hong Kong which hopefully will encourage the habit for the generations to come.

So while recycling may be part of our everyday consciousness, especially in the metal packaging industry, there is still progress to be made to close the “infinite” loop on our cans for good.

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