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Aluminum Packaging

Aluminum packaging has never comprised more than 1 percent of generated MSW.

B auxite ore is refined into alumina (aluminum oxide), one of the primary feedstocks for aluminum metal. Scrap aluminum supplies 33.7 percent of America's aluminum. Recycled aluminum cans supply one tenth of the scrap used as a raw material.

Twenty two percent of the aluminum used in America goes into packaging. This is the second largest use for aluminum, trailing transportation products, which use 28 percent. Aluminum is the second most-used material in new automobiles, worldwide.

Aluminum packaging is produced in both rigid and foil forms. Rigid aluminum containers are used for beverage and food packaging. Aluminum cans account for all of the beverage can market, but only a small percentage of the food can market. Cans are 78 percent of aluminum packaging by weight.

Foil packaging is used as a wrapping foil, as semi-rigid packages such as pie plates and frozen food trays, and as flexible packaging such as cigarette foil and candy wrappers.

Aluminum packaging has never had more than 1 percent market share of generated MSW.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington. E-mail him at: [email protected].

Aluminum Packaging MSW Facts


  • 1.88 million tons, or 0.8% by weight.
  • 1.46 million tons of cans.
  • 420,000 tons of foil.
  • 12.37 pounds (lbs) per person.
  • 9.6 lbs. of cans and 2.76 lbs. of foil per person.
  • 98.3 billion cans, or 323 per person.
  • A can weighs 0.468 ounces.
  • 34.18 cans in a lb.


  • 720,000 tons, a 38.3% recovery rate.
  • 680,000 tons, a 46.6% rate for cans.
  • 40,000 tons, a 9.5% rate for foil.
  • 775,000 tons, or a 54.2% can recycling rate by weight (2008 industry figures).

Recycled Content:

  • 44% for cans in 2008 (industry data).


  • Aluminum does not compost.

Burned or Landfilled:

  • 1.16 million tons, or 0.7% of discarded MSW by weight.
  • 870,000 tons of cans and 380,000 tons of foil.
  • Aluminum is non-combustible and can create residue in incinerator ash.

Landfill Volume:

  • 6.5 million cubic yards, 1.6% of landfilled MSW in 1997.
  • 5.3 million cubic yards of cans and 1.2 million cubic yards of foil in 1997.


  • Landfilled cans weigh 250 lbs. per cubic yard (lbs/cu.yd.).
  • Landfilled foil weighs 550 lbs/cu.yd.
  • Loose cans have a density of 50-74 lbs/cu.yd.
  • Flattened cans have a density of 250 lbs/cu.yd.

Source Reduction:

  • In 1972, 21.75 cans weighed 1 lb.
  • In 2008, 34.18 cans weighed 1 lb.


  • Aluminum can sheet manufacturers are the primary market for used cans. Foil usually bought by the same markets.

End Market Specifications:

  • ISRI Guidelines for Nonferrous Scrap: NF-2009 include "post-consumer aluminum can scrap," and "shredded," "densified," "baled" and "briquetted" aluminum used beverage can scrap.
  • Contaminants are dirt, moisture, plastic, glass, and other metals.


Aluminum Association, www.aluminum.org

"Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: 2008 Facts and Figures," U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2009, www.epa.gov/osw

"Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 1998," Office of Solid Waste, 2000, www.epa.gov/osw

"Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines," National Recyling Coalition, Washington, www.nrc-recycle.org

"Scrap Specifications Circular 2009," Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, www.isri.org

*Data is from 2008 EPA estimates, except where noted.