Ball’s María Alegre on Driving Decarbonization in the Aluminum SectorBall’s María Alegre on Driving Decarbonization in the Aluminum Sector
Ball Corporation, North America’s largest aluminum beverage can manufacturer, is aiming for a 55 percent reduction in Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions by 2030 (vs 2017). María Alegre, Global Stakeholder Relations director, Ball sat down with Waste360 to discuss plans to hit those marks and other ambitious sustainability goals. Alegre expounds on her thinking around extended producer responsibility and bottle bills. She illuminates some of Ball’s work with its supply chain for greater impact and talks research and disruptive innovations.
November 14, 2023
Ball Corporation, North America’s largest aluminum beverage can manufacturer, is aiming for a 55 percent reduction in Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions by 2030 (vs 2017).
María Alegre, Global Stakeholder Relations director, Ball sat down with Waste360 to discuss plans to hit those marks and other ambitious sustainability goals. Alegre expounds on her thinking around extended producer responsibility and bottle bills. She illuminates some of Ball’s work with its supply chain for greater impact and talks research and disruptive innovations.
Waste360: How is Ball working toward its goal to reduce Scope 1-3 emissions 55 percent by 2030?
Alegre: The goals and milestones [within our Climate Transition Plan] to deliver on the 55 percent emissions reductions target across all three scopes by 2030 include: 85 percent recycled content rate of our aluminum beverage cans, bottles, and cups across all markets; 100 percent renewable electricity (and 75 percent by 2025); 30 percent efficiency gains; and to buy 10 percent ultra-low carbon primary aluminum.
We are identifying levers and opportunities within our operations and across our value chain in each of the regions where we work. These efforts include, yet are not limited to, plants retrofits, changing the way the company procures goods and services, research and disruptive innovations, sending bold demand signals, supporting our supplier to decarbonize the remelting and rolling of aluminum; advocating for higher collection and recycling rates of aluminum cans; and leading on collaboration and partnerships to scale new technologies.
Our progress, defined in the Climate Transition Plan, will be reported in our annual combined report.
Waste360: We hear Scope 3 emissions are the hardest to deal with. Where are your Scope 3 emissions and how will you address them?
Alegre: In 2022, almost 93 percent of our emissions were Scope 3, and 74 percent came from the aluminum we purchased. Fortunately, aluminum can be recycled again and again with minimal losses, has a high residual value, remelts at 700° C, and recycling it only requires 5 percent of the energy needed to make new aluminum. These qualities are the reason circularity accounts for over 50 percent of the emission reductions we envision in our plan.
Aluminum remelting only needs around 5 percent of the energy required to produce primary aluminum. Yet the process uses about 1.18 megawatt hours of energy per ton of aluminum produced. Hence, to achieve net zero for remelting, our rolling mill suppliers will need to switch to renewable electricity and find other energy sources.
We also need to make sure that beyond our 85 percent recycled content goal, the embedded carbon in the remaining 15 percent primary aluminum of our can sheet takes us onto a 1.5°C compliant trajectory. To do this, we are working with our suppliers and their suppliers to assess the technologies available and under development, and the policy instruments needed to scale them at pace.
We also joined the First Movers Coalition, a global initiative harnessing companies’ purchasing power to unlock potential of emerging technologies to decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors by 2050. As a member of this coalition, Ball has committed to purchasing 10 percent of primary aluminum annually as low-carbon aluminum by 2030.
Waste360: How will you achieve a 90 percent recycling rate and 85 percent recycled content by 2030?
Alegre: Recycling rates vary greatly around the world [from 45 percent in the United States to 92 percent in South America.] Hence, we have set different targets and strategies for each region, based on advocacy for systemic change to build net zero circular systems, backing of efficient and effective extended producer responsibility (EPR) and deposit return systems (DRS), disruptive innovations such as recycling-friendlier alloy design and purification technologies, and support of low-carbon remelting and rolling plants.
Waste360: What is the overarching goal of your Climate Transition Plan?
Alegre: Our Climate Transition Plan outlines a robust, transparent, and science-based pathway to transform Ball into a fully circular and decarbonized business. Following the UN’s recommendations on transparent and accountable climate transition plans, it aims to show that reaching net zero can be a credible goal grounded in science and reality.
Our plan outlines three technically feasible, economically viable, and socially acceptable scenarios that account for a degree of uncertainty and the potential for change along the journey, particularly related to deployment of new, carbon-free technologies to achieve full decarbonization by 2050.
The plan also advocates for packaging industry alignment, collaboration, and systemic transformation across the value chain. We hope our plan sparks dialogue within the aluminum industry, as our most ambitious goals depend on the right mix of technologies, government support, and supply chain collaboration.
Waste360: What are your thoughts on EPR for the aluminum beverage container industry?
Alegre: We support EPR policies in which producer fees truly reflect the package type’s full collection, storage, sorting, and recycling costs to incentivize design for recyclability and the use of materials with strong end markets. Modulated fees based on recyclability are sufficient to drive change by the packaging producer, yet the granular definition of packaging formats that minimizes cross subsidies between product groups is a prerequisite for an efficient EPR fee structure.
Waste360: What are your thoughts on bottle deposit programs for the aluminum industry?
Alegre: Government policies that integrate both EPR and deposit return schemes have the highest success in increasing recycling rates.
DRS applies an extra monetary charge in the form of a deposit on beverage containers, which is returned to consumers when they bring them to recycling collection points. It has been proven as a tried and tested method of increasing recycling rates all over the world. Ball advocates for advanced economies to promote policies for better collection rates through well-designed DRS schemes with all beverages in scope, that are run by industry, and where each substrate pays its collection, sorting, and recycling costs separately, with used beverage containers recycled to beverage containers rather than other products.
Waste360: What are the outcomes of bottle deposit programs, and where?
Alegre: Thirteen European countries have deposit return schemes, including Germany, Norway, and Sweden, and the average collection rate for aluminum cans is higher than 75 percent in Europe. Collection rates above 90 percent are commonly achieved in countries with a robust DRS. In the United States, the average amount of aluminum recycled in DRS states is more than three times higher than in non-DRS states.
If well-designed DRS/EPR policies take off in the United States, enabled with innovations such as bag drop systems, bulk reverse vending machines, and the right incentives for industry, collection rates could reach well above 95 percent, or even 99 percent as in Germany today.
Waste360: How does Ball help its customers to decarbonize and meet their own company sustainability goals?
Alegre: Packaging represents up to 40 percent of our customers’ value chain emissions, which means that decarbonizing our business is absolutely instrumental for companies such as Coca-Cola, AB InBev, Red Bull, Unilever, and P&G to also reach their decarbonization goals. Our Climate Transition Plan is meant to give them assurance that we are ready and capable of doing it, and we have been engaging with customers more and more to align, innovate, and disrupt.
Ball recently collaborated with its customer AB InBev as well as Rio Tinto and Novelis in a pilot to bring low-carbon beverage cans to the Canadian market made of high recycled content and inert anode primary aluminum. Partnerships and investments like this are essential to continue to scale existing technologies and have a broader impact.
*This article was edited for length.