—Robert Budway, CMI President
The aluminum can industry is releasing this statement affirming the sustainability advantages of the beverage can following Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey’s comments regarding the recycled PET bottle having a “much lower” carbon footprint than the aluminum can. The carbon footprint of both containers is comparable, and the aluminum can performs significantly better than the plastic PET bottle on critical sustainability metrics including recycling rate, recycled content, and economic value.
Aluminum beverage cans are the most recycled drinks package in the world. In the U.S., the recycling rate for the aluminum beverage can of 50 percent is considerably higher than the U.S. recycling rate for the PET bottle of 26 percent. The recycling rate for aluminum cans is high in other parts of the world as well, including Brazil (98%) and Europe (75%).
The average aluminum can in the United States has a recycled content of 73 percent. This is also significantly higher than PET bottles in the U.S., which have less than ten percent recycled content. Most all recycled cans being transformed into new cans has a significant environmental impact. When an aluminum can is produced from recyclable material, it saves more than 90 percent of the energy used and greenhouse gas emissions produced in comparison to making that same aluminum can from virgin material.
The aluminum can has a high economic value. A recent two-year average shows in the scrap market aluminum cans are worth in the U.S. more than four times PET bottles. This high economic value means recyclers want the cans back so they can get desperately needed revenue to support the processing of the many less economic viable materials in the recycling system.
All these metrics together mean the beverage can is the only container that consumers can recycle with the confidence that their container will actually be recycled into a new, recyclable product and that their action will have a significant environmental impact. The can’s advantage in these metrics also mean the aluminum can is the container that can most help brands meet their ambitious sustainability goals including higher recycled content and increased recycling rates for their beverage packaging.
On top of the beverage can’s advantage in these key metrics, it can be recycled infinitely without any loss in quality. Thus, the same piece of aluminum can reap these benefits over and over again. PET bottles can be recycled a finite number of times. A typical life cycle analysis does not consider the number of times that a material is re-used. The aluminum can industry has made significant progress in reducing its carbon footprint over the years. For example, a European life cycle analysis found that from 2006 to 2016 the carbon footprint of the aluminum beverage can decreased 31 percent. The aluminum can industry will continue to innovate to make further reductions.
As an industry we are encouraged that NGOs, regulators, consumers and many brands see the significant advantages of aluminum compared to plastic and are increasing selecting aluminum based on its sustainability credentials.