Aluminum cans continue to outperform competitive packaging types on a number of key sustainability metrics, according to a new report from the Aluminum Association and the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI). “The Aluminum Can Advantage: Key Sustainability Performance Indicators 2019” finds that consumers recycle aluminum cans at nearly double the rate of glass or plastic bottles. The average recycled content for an aluminum can produced in the U.S. rose from 70 to 73% in 2018, compared to 23% for glass and 3% for plastic.
“The aluminum can continues to out-perform the competition on virtually every measure of environmental performance,” said Lauren Wilk, vice president for Policy & International Trade at the Aluminum Association. “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 new study 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. Taken together, these indicators provide a holistic view of the sustainability performance of the can as a guide for consumers, customers, non-governmental organizations, policymakers, and other stakeholders across the value chain.
“Can manufacturers take great pride in providing the most sustainable package in the world,” said Robert Budway, president and CEO of CMI. “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.”
Additional key findings in the 2019 report include:
- The industry recycling rate, which factors in used beverage container (UBC) imports and exports, remained basically steady in 2017 and 2018 at 63.3 and 63.6%, respectively. This exceeds the 20-year average industry recycling rate of 59.1% 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 jumped nearly 5 points to 49.8% in 2018 from 45.1% in 2017. The 20-year average for the aluminum can recycling rate is 50.1%.
- The aluminum can remains by far the most valuable package in the recycling bin, with a value per ton of $1,317/ton compared to $299/ton for plastic and a negative value of $20/ton for glass.
Multiple independent studies have concluded that aluminum is the only beverage container type in the recycling bin that generates a net profit for municipal recycling programs. For example, a study of the “Blue Box” curbside program in Ontario, Canada, showed that aluminum cans brought in $290 per ton of material collected in 2018 (after costs), while glass and plastic cost the system money. Similarly, according to CalRecycle data, aluminum cans generate $831 per ton collected in California’s bottle deposit system (after costs), while plastic and glass cost the system $253 and $120 respectively per ton of material collected.
“For every 5% increase in consumer recycling [of aluminum], approximately $100 million in aluminum value is saved from landfills,” Budway added. “It is no exaggeration to say that the modern recycling system could not work economically without the contributions of aluminum.”
Each year in the U.S. roughly 45 billion cans — more than $800 million worth of aluminum — end up in landfills, the equivalent of eleven 12-packs of cans for every person in the country. The aluminum can industry supports efforts to increase recycling through public education, advocacy for public policy to increase the quantity and quality of recovered aluminum and engagement with groups, including the Recycling Partnership, a multi-material nonprofit working with local municipalities to measurably improve residential curbside recycling programs and infrastructure.
For more information on aluminum cans and to view the full report, please visit www.aluminum.org/CanAdvantage.