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Report: Aluminum Can Dubbed Most Sustainable Beverage Package

Report: Aluminum Can Dubbed Most Sustainable Beverage Package
A new report shows the aluminum can continues to outperform competitive packaging types like glass and plastic bottles.

A new report by the Aluminum Association and the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI), “The Aluminum Can Advantage: Key Sustainability Performance Indicators 2019,” shows that aluminum cans continue to outperform competitive packaging types like glass and plastic bottles on a number of key sustainability metrics.

The report finds that consumers recycle aluminum cans at nearly double the rate of glass or plastic bottles and that average recycled content for an aluminum can produced in the United States rose from 70 to 73 percent, compared to 23 percent for glass and 3 percent for plastic. In addition, the report found that the aluminum can scrap is more valuable than glass or plastic in the recycling bin. Because of this, aluminum effectively subsidizes the recycling of less valuable material in the recycling stream, the report notes.

 Aluminum Can Dubbed Most Sustainable Beverage Package

“Can manufacturers take great pride in providing the most sustainable package in the world,” said Robert Budway, president and CEO of CMI, in a statement. “When consumers have finished enjoying their favorite beverages in aluminum cans, they should go the extra mile to recycle aluminum cans. Cans are the backbone of our country’s recycling system, and every can properly recycled makes a significant, positive impact in saving resources for future generations.”

“The aluminum can continues to outperform the competition on virtually every measure of environmental performance,” said Lauren Wilk, vice president for policy and international trade at the Aluminum Association, in a statement. “During a time when more and more consumers are demanding sustainable products, aluminum’s inherent value and infinite recyclability provides a unique competitive advantage for the can.” 

The report tracks a number of different sustainability key performance indicators for the aluminum beverage can, including industry recycling rate, consumer recycling rate, recycled content and value of material. Together, these indicators provide a holistic view of the sustainability performance of the can as a guide for consumers, customers, nongovernmental organizations, policymakers and other stakeholders across the value chain.

Key findings in the 2019 report include:

  • The industry recycling rate, which factors in used beverage container imports and exports, remained basically steady in 2017 and 2018 at 63.3 and 63.6 percent, respectively. This exceeds the 20-year average industry recycling rate of 59.1 percent and is an indicator of the industry’s commitment to using recycled material in aluminum can production.
  • The consumer recycling rate for aluminum beverage cans increased nearly 5 points to 49.8 percent in 2018 from 45.1 percent in 2017. The 20-year average for the aluminum can recycling rate is 50.1 percent.
  • The average recycled content of an aluminum can (last updated in 2014) rose from 70 to 73 percent, exceeding rival packaging types such as glass and plastic.
  • The aluminum can remains the most valuable package in the recycling bin, with a value of $1,317 per ton compared to $299 per ton for plastic and a negative value of $20 per ton for glass.
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