Aluminum Packaging

BAUXITE ORE IS REFINED into alumina (aluminum oxide), one of the primary feedstocks for aluminum metal. Scrap aluminum supplies 30 percent of America's aluminum supply. Recycled aluminum cans supply more than one-fifth of the scrap used as raw material.

Twenty-one percent of the aluminum used in America goes into packaging. This is the second largest use for aluminum, trailing transportation products, which use 31 percent. Aluminum is the third most-used material in automobiles.

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 80 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 municipal solid waste (MSW).

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C. E-mail the author at:

Aluminum Packaging Solid Waste (MSW) Facts:


  • 1.95 million tons or 0.9% by weight.*
  • 1.56 million tons of cans.*
  • 390,000 tons of foil.*
  • 13.69 pounds (lbs.) per person.*
  • 10.95 lbs. of cans and 2.74 lbs. of foil per person.*
  • 100.8 billion cans, or 354 cans per person.
  • 33.79 cans in a pound.


  • 780,000 tons or 40%.*
  • 740,000 tons or 47.4% for cans.*
  • 40,000 tons or 10.2% for foil.*
  • 53.8% can recycling rate in 2002 (industry data).

Recycled Content:

  • 42.3% for cans in 2002 (industry data).

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 1.17 million tons or 0.7% of discarded MSW.*
  • 820,000 tons of cans and 350,000 tons of foil.*
  • Aluminum is noncombustible and can create residue in incinerator ash.

Landfill Volume:

  • 6.5 million cubic yards or 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 to 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 2002, 33.79 cans weighed 1 lb.


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

End-Market Specifications:

ISRI Guidelines for Nonferrous Scrap: NF-2003 include “post-consumer aluminum cans” and “shredded,” “densified,” “baled” and “briquetted” used beverage cans. Contaminants include dirt, moisture, plastic, glass and other metals. Lead is a particular problem.

“Post-consumer aluminum foil” guidelines call for clean, dry foil. Foil and cans use different alloys and will contaminate each other in the recycling process.


Aluminum Association, Washington, D.C.

“Municipal Solid Waste In the United States: 2001 Update,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2003.

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 1998,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2000.

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition, Alexandria, Va.

“Scrap Specifications Circular 2003,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C.,

* 2001 EPA estimates.