The aluminium beverage can is helping the drinks industry improve its environmental credentials, writes Marcel Arsand
According to the first Drinks Industry Sustainability Index – Trends Report 2020, the drinks sector’s sustainable strategies and practices fall considerably short of other industries.
The report analysed the extent to which the drinks industry is adopting sustainable measures for packaging, waste, water, emissions, energy, social impact and raw materials. It scored a rather underwhelming average of 4.8 out of 10. However, the report also recognised ‘pockets of good practice’, singling out the need to re-think packaging.
Wider use of the beverage can as a packaging format would certainly enable the drinks industry to boost its green credentials considerably.
First and foremost, aluminium beverage cans are the most recycled drinks pack in the world, with an average recycling rate of 69 per cent. In Europe, the recycling rate is 74.5 per cent and the industry is developing a roadmap towards a 100 per cent recycling rate.
As metal can be endlessly recycled with no loss of quality, the beverage can is already well positioned to help brands and retailers to move from the old linear or semi-circular approaches, to a real circular economy. Proof of this is the fact that 75 per cent of all aluminium ever produced is still in use today around the world.
Furthermore, a can made from recycled materials uses 95 per cent less energy and produce 95 per cent less greenhouse gases, because it reduces the need to extract virgin raw materials.
However, even taking this extraction into account, significant reductions in carbon emissions have been recorded over the last decade.
Metal Packaging Europe, the association of European producers of rigid metal packaging and its supply chain partners, recently completed a new Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of aluminium beverage cans. The study covers the life cycle of aluminium beverage cans produced in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, from extraction of raw materials to manufacturing to end-of-life. It reported a significant 31 per cent reduction in CO2-equivalent emissions over a 10-year period (2006-2016) mainly due to continuous improvements in the aluminium production and can manufacturing processes, a reduction in can weight, and the aforementioned increase in aluminium beverage can recycling rates.
Yet aluminium can manufacturers are striving to become even more sustainable. For example, Ball Corporation has recently revealed it is now powering its operations in North America, the European Union, the UK and Serbia with 100 per cent renewable electricity. The company also announced its plants in Europe have been successfully certified against the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (the ‘FSC for aluminium’) Performance and Chain of Custody (CoC) Standards for responsible production, sourcing and stewardship of aluminium. Ultimately however, it is the recyclability of beverage cans and its high intrinsic value that make them the most sustainable choice for the drinks industry. The infrastructure and capacity to reprocess every can placed in the UK market already exists, and while overall UK recycling rates appear to have stalled, the aluminium industry has continued to record year-on-year growth.
All in all, the can provides consumers, brands and retailers in the drinks industry with confidence that choosing the format is a convenient as well as an environmentally positive choice.