Aluminum Packaging

BAUXITE ORE IS refined into alumina (aluminum oxide), one of the primary feedstocks for aluminum metal. Scrap aluminum makes up 30 percent of America's aluminum supply, and recycled aluminum cans supply one-fifth of the scrap used as a raw material.

Twenty percent of aluminum used in America goes into packaging. This is the second largest use for aluminum, trailing transportation products, which use 32 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 79 percent of aluminum packaging by weight.

Foil packaging is used as a wrapping foil; semi-rigid packages, such as pie plates and frozen food trays; and 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, D.C. E-mail the author at:


Aluminum Association,

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2003,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2005,

“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 2005,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C.,

*2003 EPA estimates.

Aluminum Packaging Solid Waste (MSW) Facts:


  • 1.94 million tons or 0.8% by weight.*

  • 1.53 million tons of cans.*

  • 410,000 tons of foil.*

  • 13.34 pounds (lbs.) per person.*

  • 10.52 lbs. of cans and 2.82 lbs. of foil per person.*

  • 100.5 billion cans, or 350 cans per person

  • 33.92 cans in a pound


  • 690,000 tons or 35.9%.*

  • 650,000 tons or 43.9% for cans.*

  • 40,000 tons or 9.8% for foil.*

  • 51.2% can recycling rate in 2004 (industry data).

Recycled Content:

  • 41.3% for cans in 2004 (industry data).


  • Aluminum packaging does not compost.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 1.25 million tons or 0.8% of discarded MSW.*

  • 880,000 tons of cans and 370,000 tons of foil.*

  • Aluminum is non-combustible and can create residue in incinerator ash.

Landfill Volume:

  • 6.5 million cubic yards (cu. yds.) or 1.6% of landfilled MSW in 1997.

  • 5.3 million cu. yds. of cans and 1.2 million cu. yds. of foil in 1997.


  • Landfilled cans weigh 250 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.


  • In 1972, 21.75 cans weighed 1 lb.

  • In 2004, 33.92 cans weighed 1 lb.

Recycling Markets:

  • 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 can scrap,” “shredded,” “densified,” “baled” and “briquetted” aluminum used beverage can scrap. Contaminants include dirt, moisture, plastic, glass, lead and other metals.

  • Each mill has its own wastepaper requirements.

  • High-value end-markets are the most restrictive.

  • Consult carefully with purchasers before delivering office paper to a market.