Aluminum Packaging

Aluminum is found in everything from beverage cans to cigarette foil.

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 a raw material.

Around 20 percent of the aluminum used in America goes into packaging. This is the second largest use for aluminum domestically, trailing only 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, 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 National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington, D.C. E-mail the author at:

Aluminum Packaging Municipal Solid Waste Facts:


  • 1.9 million tons or 0.8% by weight, including 1.55 million tons of cans and 400,000 tons of foil.*

  • 12.82 pounds (lbs) per person per year, including 10.12 lbs. of cans and 2.7 lbs. of foil per person per year.

  • 100.6 billion cans, or 340 per person.


  • 690,000 tons, or 36.3% recycling rate.*

  • 650,000 tons, or 44.8% for cans.*

  • 40,000 tons, or 10% for foil.*

  • 51.6% can recycling rate in 2006 according to industry data.

Recycled Content:

  • 41.3% for cans in 2006.


  • Aluminum does not compost.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 1.21 million tons or 0.7% of discarded MSW by weight, including 850,000 tons of cans and 360,000 tons of foil.*

  • Aluminum is non-combustible 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 pounds 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, 1 lb. was equal to 21.75 cans. In 2006, 1 lb. was 34.21 cans.

Recycling Markets:

  • Manufacturers of aluminum can sheets are the primary market for used aluminum cans and foil.

End-Market Specifications:

  • ISRI Guidelines for Nonferrous Scrap: NF-2007 include “post-consumer aluminum can scrap,” and “shredded,” “densified,” “baled” and “briquetted” aluminum used beverage can scrap.

  • Contaminants include dirt, moisture, plastic, glass and other metals. Lead is a particular problem.

  • Guidelines call for clean, dry foil.

  • Foil and cans use different alloys and will contaminate each other in the recycling process.


Aluminum Association,

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition,

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 1998,” Office of Solid Waste, Washington,

“Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2005 Facts and Figures,” Office of Solid Waste, Washington,

Scrap Specifications Circular 2007, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington,

*2005 EPA estimates.