Study: aluminium cans best support a circular economy
A new study into the recycling of three beverage container materials – aluminium, glass and plastic – has shown that aluminium cans best support a circular economy.
The study, commissioned by the International Aluminium Institute (IAI), shows that compared with aluminium cans, more glass and plastic bottles end up in landfills because they are not collected. In addition, the losses in the recycling system once collected, is three times higher for PET and glass bottles than for the aluminium cans.
On behalf of the IAI, Eunomia Research and Consulting studied data in five regions: Brazil, China, Europe, Japan and the US. It looked at the end-of-life processing losses for aluminium cans, glass bottles and plastic (PET) bottles. The study also looked at the collection, sorting, reprocessing and thermal processing, closed-loop recycling and open-loop recycling.
“Aluminium outperforms glass and plastics”
Ramon Arratia, vice-president Global Public Affairs at Ball Corporation, noted: “While no drinks container has achieved its full circularity potential yet, aluminium outperforms glass and plastics (PET) at all stages of the waste management system. Today, aluminium cans are the most recycled beverage containers globally. Once the aluminium can is collected from the consumer, it has an unrivalled sorting, reprocessing and remelting efficiency rate of 90% compared with glass (67%) and PET (66%). On this basis, aluminium can be described as a material of choice for a circular economy. This is especially important when we look at the carbon reduction potential of recycling.”
Andrew Wood, group executive Strategy and Business Development at Alumina Ltd, said: “The number of aluminium cans collected at the end of their life is about 18% higher than PET bottles and 28% higher than glass. A greater proportion of PET and one-way glass bottles end up in landfills or waterways because they are not collected. In a decarbonising world, this is likely to contribute to higher demand for both recycled and primary aluminium.”
The aluminium can was first mass-produced by Coors Brewing Company in the 1950s to improve the taste of beer and provide a more sustainable container than steel cans. It is therefore reassuring to see from this study that the environmental goals of that ground-breaking new product all those years ago are still being realized.
“Aluminium is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet”
Marlen Bertram, IAI’s director Scenarios and Forecasts, says: “As the Institute celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, we have been reflecting on our organization’s long history of data collection, analysis and modelling. Aluminium is one of the most recyclable materials on the planet and the IAI is campaigning to ensure end-of-life products are returned into the recycling loop given the economic and environmental benefits of the metal in our global economy. Comparing recycling rates of different materials is meaningless if you don’t know how the rate is measured and into what products the material is recycled back to. This study is the first public study that comprehensively analyses the extent of recycling and losses of three beverage containers in different regions. By increasing the precision of identifying where major losses occur, the study could provide solutions to improving the rate of recycling for all materials. We are clearly in a new era in circularity transparency.”
“We need a policy framework that incentivizes true recycling”
Emilio Braghi, president of Novelis Europe, says: “Collection and sorting systems are essential to increasing circularity and to unlocking the full potential of infinitely recyclable materials. We need a policy framework that incentivizes true recycling and circular systems, where at the end of their life, beverage containers are recycled again and again – without loss to quality. Aluminium is perfectly suited for multiple product-to-product recycling. We need to move our thinking from waste to valuable resource – reusing existing material to produce new packaging and thereby saving precious natural resources, energy, and lowering emissions.”
Titled ‘Scaling Circularity’, Novelis‘ report on sustainability reviews metrics and success stories from the 2023 fiscal year.
Recycling of aluminium beverage containers could save 60m t of CO2e per year by 2030 globally.
Science-based decarbonization pathways for the aluminium industry with a realistic framework for achieving net-zero emissions across the entire aluminium value chain.