One of the World’s Most Sustainable
Consumers around the world are becoming increasingly aware of, and focused on, the amount of packaging waste going into landfills. According to U.S. government statistics, nearly 30% of the municipal solid-waste stream in that country alone consists of packaging.
One of the most sustainable solutions for eliminating packaging waste is using aluminum in food and beverage packaging. The benefits of aluminum cans, many of which have been validated in life cycle analyses, are significant:
- The aluminum can is lightweight, infinitely recyclable, unbreakable, and quick to chill.
- Aluminum cans are recycled and back on the store shelf in only 60 days.
- Recycling aluminum only uses 5% of the energy required to make new aluminum ingot. In addition, recycled aluminum creates 95% less greenhouse gas emissions than new aluminum.
- With a 73% global recycling rate, the aluminum can is the most recycled beverage container in the world. Its recycling rate is around double that of glass and plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
- The U.S. aluminum can’s total recycled content averages 68% compared to 30% for glass and 3% for PET, making it the highest of any beverage container.
- Today’s aluminum can is manufactured with 44% lower greenhouse gases and 30% less energy compared to a can manufactured in 1993.
- At 13 grams (0.5 ounces), the aluminum can is 15% lighter than in 1993, helping reduce transportation fuel use and emissions. It is lighter than a carbonated soft drink PET bottle (on average 24 grams/0.8 ounces) and glass bottle (typically 199 grams/7 ounces).
- On average, a total of 34 cans can be made from just half a kilogram (one pound) of aluminum.
At Alcoa, we produce aluminum rigid container sheet for the packaging products market. Our customers use our sheet to manufacture the bodies, ends, and tabs of beverage and food cans for the beer, soft drink, juice, isotonic beverage, energy drink, packaged water, food, and pet food industries.
Our can sheet and bottle sheet have earned Cradle to Cradle® Certification—Silver, which is given only after an in-depth third-party assessment of a product’s safety to humans and potential impact on the natural environment. We are also a recognized leader in package innovation, developing the technology and sheet for new packaging solutions, such as the aluminum bottle, shaped packages, and aluminum closures.
We meet the needs of our global customers through facilities in North America, Australia, China, and Russia. We are also the minority partner in a food-grade can sheet rolling mill that is under construction in Saudi Arabia to supply the Middle East’s growing demand for can sheet products.
We operate the largest can reclamation facility in the world in Alcoa, Tennessee, USA. This facility re-melts enough used beverage containers to make billions of new aluminum cans each year. We also operate the largest can reclamation facility in the southern hemisphere at our Yennora facility in Australia. Our new project in Saudi Arabia will have recycling capabilities as well.
It’s estimated that since 1972, some 17 million metric tons of aluminum have been recycled in the United States alone. If placed end-to-end, these 1.2 trillion aluminum cans could stretch to the moon and back about 174 times. The cans also have earned Americans more than US$25 billion through various means of collection.
We have had an active voice in the packaging industry’s dialogue around how to lessen the impacts in key areas, such as waste disposal and recycling. In early 2008, we announced an aggressive goal to raise the U.S. used beverage can recycling rate to 75% by 2015. Later that year, The Aluminum Association also adopted this objective. In 2010, we extended our internal goal to reach a 90% global recycling rate by 2030.
The U.S. recycling rate for aluminum beverage containers jumped seven percentage points in 2011 (the most recent year for data), moving from 58% to 65%. While this progress is certainly encouraging, a significant portion of the increase came from cans that were imported for recycling by U.S. aluminum manufacturers. As such, more work needs to be done.
As a member of GreenBlue’s Sustainable Packaging Coalition®, we collaborate with partners in our supply chain through a science-based approach and continued education. The goal is to create and maintain packaging systems that are environmentally sustainable, while also supporting the economic needs of the value chain.
We continue to work with our competitors and customers in communicating the sustainability message and need for higher recycling rates through The Aluminum Association’s Can Committee and Can Manufacturers Institute.
Our efforts are focused on investing significant resources into our recycling commitment, and we support a range of programs designed to positively impact the rate in the United States. These range from education and awareness programs to mandatory recycling schemes.
Partnering with Customers
We also partner with our customers to further sustainability in their supply chains, using our internal life cycle experts to conduct joint product-specific life cycle analyses to discover and validate opportunity areas for a focused improvement effort.
For example, a 2011 assessment on pet food cans with Silgan Containers showed that for every 10% increase in the recycling rate of these cans, there is a carbon footprint reduction of 6.6%. That research validated support of our customer’s effort aimed at reaching a broad audience in a new way.
Alcoa, in partnership with Silgan Containers and Oberg Freight, sponsored three trailers that were wrapped and decorated with a pet food can recycling message in early 2013. The trucks primarily will travel routes loaded with food can stock from Alcoa’s Warrick Operation facility in Evansville, Indiana, to Silgan Container’s food can manufacturing facilities in Fort Madison and Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Menomonie, Wisconsin, in the United States. These rolling billboards will reach a large number of consumers who otherwise may not have seen the recyclability message.
We also have launched a pilot effort in U.S. communities where we operate to promote pet food can recycling, and we are working with local retailers and pet shelters to recycle those cans.
We continue to invest in capabilities that our customers have communicated are important to them. In 2010, we upgraded our used beverage can recycling facility at our Tennessee Operations to increase its capacity by 50%, installing state-of-the-art environmental and fuel-efficiency technologies that support future flexibility to process other aluminum scrap types.
Eliminating Packaging Waste
As part of our long-term strategy to eliminate waste and also meet growing customer demand for environmentally friendlier packaging, we continue to undertake initiatives to minimize the packaging related to the products we provide. Such recycling efforts exist at every one of our plants worldwide.
At our Warrick, Tennessee, and Davenport, Iowa, operations in the United States, we have been reusing and recycling skids for more than 20 years via the Alcoa Skid Saver Program. In 2012, the locations recycled 1,664 metric tons of skids through local recyclers. They also recycled more than 275 metric tons of other packaging material, including corrugated packaging, plastic, and fiber cores that are at the center of an aluminum coil.
Product Design and Life Cycle