Study highlights ‘vital role’ of aluminium cans in a circular economy

Research commissioned by the International Aluminium Institute (IAI) into the recycling of three beverage container materials – aluminium, glass and plastic (PET) – suggests aluminium cans ‘best support a circular economy’.

The study suggests 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 (polyethylene terephthalate – PET) bottles.

Mapping losses. Click to enlarge.

The study also looked at the collection, sorting, reprocessing and thermal processing, closed-loop recycling and open-loop recycling.

This is the first comprehensive public study analysing the recycling value chain for single-use beverage containers in five key markets.

The data shows that today more than 70% of the material used in aluminium cans is recycled into new products – almost double that of glass (34%) and plastic (40%).

Ramon Arratia, Vice President Global Public Affairs at Ball Corporation, noted that: “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 & Business Development at Alumina Limited, 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.”

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