Resource Use

Study highlights circularity of aluminium beverage containers

Research commissioned by the International Aluminium Insititute (IAI) into the recycling of three beverage container materials suggests that aluminium cans could best support the circular economy.

Aluminium cansThe study – examining aluminium, glass, and plastic (PET) – shows that aluminium cans are least likely to end up in landfills, with the recycling systems for glass and plastic bottles losing three times more material to landfill once collected.

Findings revealed that over 70 per cent of the material used in aluminium cans is recycled into new products, almost double that of glass (34 per cent) and plastic (40 per cent).

On behalf of the IAI, Eunomia studied data in Brazil, China, Europe, Japan and the US, focusing on the end-of-life processing losses for the three beverage container materials. The study also looked at collection, sorting, reprocessing and thermal processing, closed-loop recycling and open-loop recycling.

Ramon Arratia, Vice President of Global Public Affairs at Ball Corporation, said: “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 per cent compared with glass (67 per cent) and PET (66 per cent). 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 & Business Development at Alumina Limited, also commented: “The number of aluminium cans collected at the end of their life is about 18 per cent higher than PET bottles and 28 per cent 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.”

Emilio Braghi, EVP Novelis & President Novelis Europe, added: “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 incentivises 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.”