Metal Packaging: Every Can Counts - Working Towards A Recycling Revolution

Emily Mullins
Global Market Strategy Manager for Metal Packaging Surface Technologies

Metal cans, including aluminum and steel, provide a proven sustainable alternative to plastic packaging. Aluminum beverage cans, for instance, are the most widely recycled packaging in the world. In the US, we recycle around 56 percent of aluminum cans – the equivalent of 5 million every hour - and 71 percent of our steel cans1

Brazil, meanwhile, holds the record for aluminum with a 98.4 percent recycling rate2. With EU following strong with a 76.1 percent recycling rate reported by European Aluminum and Metal Packaging Europe industry associations.

How can we collectively contribute towards increasing those recycling levels and the circular economy?

How can we work together to ensure every can counts and contribute towards a recycling revolution?

The circularity of metal packaging

Logo is property of Metal Packaging Europe

Research from the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) shows that metal cans are the circular, sustainable packaging choice. Cans offer high levels of recycling and economic value to help companies meet their sustainability goals. Both aluminum and steel are infinitely recyclable3.

Aluminum, for instance, is lightweight and strong, containing an estimated 73 percent recycled content (triple that of a glass or plastic bottle according to the Aluminum Association). Making a beverage can from recycled aluminum reduces energy and carbon emissions by over 90 percent compared to using new aluminum. In contrast, plastic degrades in reprocessing and can rarely be recycled more than once.

Aluminum cans contain 73 percent recycled content, almost triple that of glass and plastic bottles according to the Aluminum Association.

Making every can count: Sustainable initiatives

Metal offers a high economic value in the circular economy, offering a revenue source of $100 per ton for steel and around $1,000 per ton for aluminum.  If the can industry achieves its goal of recycling every aluminum can, it would add $800 million of economic value in the circular economy. Initiatives are in place to increase the rate of aluminum can recycling, including:

Ball’s Aluminum Cup™
Launching its own recycling revolution, Ball’s innovative Aluminum Cup™ is specifically designed to reduce the impact of single use plastic cups with a more sustainable alternative. Once recycled, the aluminum contained in the cup can be brought back to market as a new can or a cup within just 60 days.

Grants to MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities)
From 2021 CMI, in collaboration with Crown Holdings and Ardagh Group, will be offering grants to MRFs (material recovery facilities) to promote recycling and sustainability packaging solutions4.

Funding is intended to enable manufacturers of aluminum beverage cans to invest in aluminum can capture equipment. This initiative will help to reduce the numbers of missorted cans (currently around 25 percent). The capturing of missorted cans is good news for the environment, in reducing carbon emissions from higher levels of recycling, and for MRFs, increasing revenue.

The grants are expected to encourage more MRFs to invest in additional aluminum can capture equipment.

Henkel: Making every can count

At Henkel, our goal is to make every can count.

We are committed to purposeful growth with sustainability and to ensuring the new technologies and solutions used in our products align with that commitment.

Whether aluminum cans or tin-plate, Henkel aims to increase process efficiency while improving health and safety and reducing environmental impact through product solutions that:

  • Increase can production rates
  • Reduce scrap and minimize machine down-time
  • Enable the more efficient use of materials in the production process and drive efficiency throughout the process
  • Offering fully biodegradable cleaners

For additional information on Henkel Metal Packing solutions, please visit our website or reach out to me directly via LinkedIn.

Reference List

About the Author

Emily Mullins


As the Global Market Strategy Manager for the Surface Technologies segment of the Metals business, Emily is responsible for developing global business and product development strategies based on trends and innovations in the industry, such as the drive for more recyclable and sustainable products and more efficient production processes. With a background in chemical engineering and almost 20 years of experience in the industry, she offers a wealth of product expertise to both internal stakeholders and external customers.

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