MThe aluminum can is a package built for the circular economy; it is by far the most valuable material in the recycling bin on a per ton basis. A used beverage can act as a “technical nutrient” as it is returned to the material stream as feedstock at the end of its useful life. Aluminum cans are recycled repeatedly in a closed loop process. Many municipalities have initiated financially viable recycling programs which rely on re-selling collected material to subsidize their effort.
While the amount of recycled content in the average aluminum can far exceeds competitive packaging types, there is room for significant improvement in the aluminum can recycling rate. The aluminum industry’s ultimate goal is to recycle every can that’s produced.
Some of the best practices with respect to beverage can manufacturing and design are highlighted below:
- USE OF ALUMINIUM : To maintain and increase the efficiency and economics of recycling, aluminum container designs should maximize the percentage of aluminum and minimize the use of non-aluminum materials
- MAKE PLASTIC REMOVABLE : To the extent that designers use non-aluminum material in their designs, this material should be easily removable and labeled to encourage separation
- ADDITION OF NON-ALUMINUM DESIGN ELEMENTS TO BE AVOIDED whenever Possible : Minimize the use of foreign materials in aluminum container design. PVC and chlorine-based plastics, which can create operational, safety and environmental hazards at aluminum recycling facilities, should not be used
- CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGIES : Explore design alternatives to avoid adding non-aluminum material to aluminum containers.
On the other hand, strict policies on recycling should be undertaken by the Government (State/ Municipalities). The industry associations need to work closely with the Government in framing such policies beneficial for circular economy.
Some of the best practices that are needed to create responsible, comprehensive and sensible recycling policy are outlined below.
- CONTAINER DEPOSIT LAWS : States and municipalities with legislation on depositing aluminum containers are expected to have higher recycling rates and ensure better material quality and economical recycling processes. (An analysis by environmental research firm Circular Matters showed that while the ten U.S. deposit states represent about a quarter of all can consumption, they represent more than one-third of all cans recycled each year. Recycling rates for aluminum cans average more than 80 percent in states with deposit laws as compared to 40 percent in states without such laws).
- PAY-AS-YOU-THROW : Recycling systems that assign value to recyclable materials and that properly reflect the cost of wasting natural resources needs to be supported by industry associations. Encouraging consumers to recycle more and waste less achieves a higher level of aluminum diversion. The industry needs to support pay as you throw (PAYT) policies that assign fees and other incentives to encourage recycling. The industry must also recognize the importance of protecting material quality in a PAYT environment, as well as the importance of environmental equity to ensure that economically disadvantaged segments of the population are not negatively affected.
- LANDFILL BANS : A large number of aluminum cans end up in landfills as trash, resulting in a loss to the environment and the overall economy. Used beverage cans are a valuable raw material stream for the aluminum industry. Legislation preventing post-consumer used beverage cans out of landfills should be introduced to achieve the specific goal of constituent awareness, and the broader goal of material diversion. Such bans should be considered as part of comprehensive recycling policies that route valuable material back into the circular economy.
- LANDFILL TIPPING FEE : Introduction of tipping fees and surcharges can also be looked at in order to build and support recycling infrastructure, resulting in increased aluminum can recovery.