trucks filled with bales of aluminum cans
Photo courtesy Constellium

CMI publishes beverage can recycling primer, road map

The report provides more details on what the can industry is doing in the near term to make progress toward its recycling targets.

July 12, 2022

The Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI), Washington, has published the “Aluminum Beverage Can Recycling Primer and Roadmap,” which explains how the aluminum beverage can recycling rate targets that CMI members announced in November 2021 will be achieved. Those target recycling rates are 70 percent by 2030, 80 percent by 2040 and 90 percent by 2050.

The aluminum beverage can is the most recycled beverage container in the United States with a 45 percent recycling rate in 2020, the CMI says. The U.S. aluminum beverage can industry knows improving upon that leading position by achieving these targets will not be easy but would have a significant impact. The CMI says that if the aluminum beverage can recycling rate was 70 percent in 2020, 25.6 billion more cans would have been recycled, generating more than $400 million in revenue for the U.S. recycling system and resulting in energy savings that could power more than 1 million U.S. homes for a year.

“This new report makes clear the opportunity to make progress on our ambitious U.S. aluminum beverage can recycling rate targets, and the steps CMI members are taking in each pillar of action right now to make progress within those pillars,” says CMI Vice President of Sustainability Scott Breen. “We encourage stakeholders to read the report, understand how the targets and their associated economic and environmental benefits can be achieved and join the industry in a collaborative, concerted effort to have more aluminum beverage cans complete their circular journey, which the vast majority of the time is into a new can.”

The CMI has outlined four pillars of action to increase the used beverage can (UBC) recycling rate, and the report provides additional details on how these targets will be achieved:

  1. Catalyze the passage and implementation of well-designed deposit systems at the state and federal levels.
  2. Increase and improve household and away-from-home recycling.
  3. Ensure that more cans are properly sorted at recycling centers.
  4. Increase consumer understanding of the importance of aluminum can recycling and the ability to collect and sell used beverage cans for cash.

The report also provides new data on the potential impact of certain pillars, the CMI says. For example, if the U.S. had a national deposit system with recycling rates similar to a state such as Michigan, where there is a 10-cent deposit, an additional 50 billion UBCs would be redeemed through the deposit system and ultimately recycled. This pillar would have the greatest potential impact and would allow the industry to quickly reach its goals, the CMI says, which is why CMI is aggressively pushing for new, well-designed deposit systems.

The CMI worked with Reloop and the U.S. Public Interest Group on a list of principles for such a system. They include using a single entity to manage the system that must meet performance targets, applying appropriate deposit values to avoid market distortion and catalyze high recycling rates, using unredeemed deposits to enhance the recycling system, including all beverage types and containers with only minimal exemptions allowed, providing easy and convenient redemption, ensuring fees vary by material type based on environmental impacts and market values and using technology and clear labeling to reduce fraud and unfairness.

The CMI says in its report that the aluminum can industry will advocate in key states where a relatively substantial number of cans are lost to landfill and the politics are favorable for instituting a deposit return system, citing Illinois, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virgina.

CMI modeling also finds that 23 billion additional aluminum beverage cans could be captured from U.S. households if they all had automatic, cart-based curbside recycling service with robust education. This number was calculated using data from The Recycling Partnership. (CMI was a founding member of what ultimately became The Recycling Partnership and continues general support of the organization.)

To improve away-from-home recycling, in the report, the CMI says it will pilot educating people at event venues on the importance of can recycling. Examples of tactics to be used in the pilot include using see-through iron cages that spell out a word or form a design as they fill up and using receptacles to vote on a topic by putting a can in a certain place. CMI says it will prioritize funding this pilot at a venue that is no longer selling beverages in single-use plastic bottles, adding that the tactics are inspired by Every Can Counts, an initiative that started in Europe and recently spread to Brazil.

If sorting was improved at material recovery facilities (MRFs), an estimated 3.5 billion additional aluminum beverage cans could be collected for recycling, CMI says. The organization issued a report in 2020 finding that up to 1 in 4 UBCs are missorted at MRFs. Last year, with the financial support of Ardagh Metal Packaging and Crown Holdings and in conjunction with The Recycling Partnership, grants were awarded to five MRFs for can capture equipment that will enable the capture of 71 million aluminum beverage cans per year. Ardagh and Crown are continuing to fund activities through CMI to catalyze additional can capture equipment in MRFs, including testing at MRFs of exactly how many cans are being missorted and developing a return on investment (ROI) calculator that was published online for any MRF to use at no cost to determine the ROI of investing in can capture equipment in its facility.

CMI members supporting the targets and financing the activities detailed in the roadmap are aluminum beverage can manufacturers Ardagh Metal PackagingCanpackCrown Holdings and Envases; and aluminum can sheet suppliers Constellium, Kaiser AluminumNovelis and Tri-Arrows Aluminum.