Aluminium can remains most sustainable packaging type

The Aluminum Association and the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) have released an updated report – “The Aluminum Can Advantage: Sustainability Key Performance Indicators 2020” – demonstrating the ongoing sustainability advantages of the aluminium beverage container compared to competing packaging types. The report finds that consumers recycle aluminium cans at nearly double the rate of plastic bottles.

Additionally, the average aluminium can made in the United States contains about 73% recycled content compared to 23% for glass bottles and less than 6% for plastic. In addition, aluminium can scrap is far more valuable than glass or plastic, making aluminium a key driver of the financial viability of the recycling system in the United States.

The full report is available at and a summary chart details the findings below:

Chart courtesy of the Aluminum Association

In an effort to improve the aluminium can recycle rate in the United States, the Aluminum Association and CMI also released a new document “Every Can Counts: An Aluminum Beverage Can Recycling Manifesto” to underscore the critical importance of aluminium can recycling for the economy and the environment. The manifesto also lays out what the aluminium can production and recycling industry are doing to grow aluminium can recycling and capture every can.

“The aluminium industry is committed to bringing as many used beverage containers as possible back into the system,” said Tom Dobbins, president & CEO of the Aluminum Association. “We are incredibly proud of our industry-leading sustainability metrics but also want to make sure that every can counts. Unlike most recycling, a used aluminium can is typically recycled directly into a new can – a process which can happen over and over again.”

“The aluminium beverage can’s existing circular system recycles approximately 45 billion cans each year in the United States,” said Robert Budway, president of the Can Manufacturers Institute. “More than 90 percent of these recycled cans get turned into aluminium sheet used to make new beverage cans. These used cans plus other scrap metal create an average recycled content rate of 73 percent, which is exponentially higher than any competing substrate. While the beverage can’s recycling rate is significantly better than other beverage containers, it is time for all of us to take action to keep more aluminium cans out of landfills.”

The updated study tracks multiple different sustainability “key performance indicators” for the aluminium 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, beverage company customers, non-governmental organisations, policymakers and other stakeholders across the value chain.

Key findings in the 2020 report include:

  • The industry recycling rate, which includes the recycling of all aluminum used beverage containers (UBCs) by the US industry (including imported and exported UBCs) was 55.9% in 2019, a decline from 63.6% in 2018. This change was driven largely by production shifts within the industry in 2019.
  • The consumer recycling rate for aluminium beverage cans dropped to 46.1% in 2019, lower than the 2018 rate of 49.8% but above the 2017 number of 45.1%. The 20-year average for the consumer recycling rate is around 50%.
  • The average recycled content of an aluminium can is 73%, far exceeding rival packaging types such as glass and plastic.
  • The aluminium can remains by far the most valuable package in the recycling bin, with a value per ton of $1,210/ton compared to $237/ton for plastic and a negative value of $21/ton for glass, based on a two-year rolling average through February 2019.

As noted in the Every Can Counts manifesto, “Aluminium beverage can recycling is vital to the nation’s recycling system and overall economy. Since metal recycles forever, aluminium cans are already the most recycled beverage container in the United States and the world with nearly 5 million beverage cans recycled every hour in the United States.”

The document continues, “And yet, recycling rates in the United States have been in decline in recent years. The industry continues to use as much recycled material as possible – with an industry leading 73 percent recycled content in the average aluminum can. But too much infinitely recyclable aluminium is going to landfill – at major economic and environmental cost.” The manifesto details a comprehensive industry approach to increase aluminium can recycling including actions on Research & Data; Industry & Consumer Education; Policy; and Stakeholder Engagement.

Related content

Leave a reply

CanTech International