Can manufacturers are focusing on deposit-return programs, expanding access and better sorting to improve recycling rates for aluminum cans.
The Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) has released an Aluminum Beverage Can Recycling Primer and Roadmap to explain how CMI members plan to meet the “Strong Aluminum Beverage Can Recycling Rate Goals in the United States” announced in November 2021.
The targets, which include reaching a recycling rate of 70% by 2030, 80% by 2040 and 90% by 2050, would be huge increases from the 2020 rate of 45% .
“The U.S. aluminum beverage can industry knows that improving on this leadership position by meeting the goals will not be easy, but will have a significant impact,” a press release read.
For example, to reach a rate of 70% in 2020, it would have been necessary to recycle an additional 25.6 billion cans. This would have translated into $400 million in revenue for the US recycling system and energy savings that could power more than one million US homes for an entire year.
CMI plans to achieve the goals by adding deposit systems at the state and federal levels, increasing and improving in-home and out-of-home recycling, improving sort rates at recycling centers, and increasing consumer awareness of the importance of recycling aluminum cans.
Adding a national deposit system could result in the recycling of an additional 50 billion aluminum beverage cans if the national system had a recycling rate similar to that of Michigan, where there is a 10-cent deposit.
“This pillar has the greatest potential impact and would enable the industry to quickly achieve its goals,” the press release reads. “That’s part of why CMI is pushing aggressively for new, well-designed depot systems.”
The can industry plans to ‘actively advocate’ for states where a relatively large number of cans are lost to landfills and where politics favor setting up a program, the report said, such as Illinois .
If U.S. households shifted from their current level of recycling access to “automatic cart-based recycling service with solid education,” it could yield an additional 23 billion aluminum beverage cans, the report said. CMI plans to continue to offer grants and help educate consumers, for example through pop-ups at event venues.
“Perfect sorting” at recycling centers could add an estimated 3.5 billion aluminum drink cans to the tally. A 2020 CMI report found that up to one in four UBCs are missorted in MRFs.
Ardagh Metal Packaging and Crown Holdings are financing the purchase of equipment for MRFs through CMI to improve these rates.
CMI Vice President of Sustainability Scott Breen encouraged stakeholders to read the report and “understand how the goals and their associated economic and environmental benefits can be achieved and join the industry in a collaborative effort and concerted for more aluminum drink cans to complete their circular journey, which the vast majority of the time is in a new can.
Proud Source Water, Ball Corporation and Replenysh recently launched a pilot program to support recycling infrastructure and increase aluminum recycling rates in Florida.
The pilot project’s goal is to recover a minimum of 6 million pounds of aluminum over the next 12 months, according to a press release, as 75% of aluminum cans are discarded in Florida.
“The goal of this pilot program is to create new circularity infrastructure to help capture this material before it goes to landfill,” the press release reads.
The program will focus on communities with little or no access to retraining, making K-12 schools “welcoming places.” The schools will then benefit from the sale of the collected material.
“As a consumer packaged goods company, we have a responsibility to collect what we put out into the world,” said CJ Pennington, co-founder and president of Proud Source Water, in the press release. “This is the first step in demonstrating that circularity in our supply chain is not just a concept, but a reality that we can achieve.”
Raising Florida’s aluminum recycling rate to 90% would generate $151.8 million and prevent 119,700 tons of material from going to landfill each year, the press release said.