New study reveals environmental benefits of can recycling
A new study on recycling of aluminium cans has identified that 60 million tonnes of CO2e per annum could be saved through effective global recycling of used beverage cans by 2030.
The study was commissioned by the International Aluminium Institute and co-funded by Emirates Global Aluminium, Crown Holdings, Australian Aluminium Council and Novelis.
The result of the assessment is contained in a report produced for the IAI by global management consultants Roland Berger.
It proposes 25 levers to increase recycling and a prioritised set of strategic recommendations to improve aluminium can recycling for six countries in the Middle East, Oceania and Asia.
The findings and recommendations are based on the assessment of can waste management systems in Australia, Cambodia, South Korea, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
Together, these countries provide representative insights into can usage, collection, and processing across different countries and cultures. The assessment also provides insight into the regional trade flows of used beverage cans (UBC) scrap in the Gulf and Asia Pacific regions – both major trading hubs.
For each of the six countries, various aspects were analysed including waste management and regulatory schemes, collection infrastructure, recycling and landfill rates, volumes put on market, usage trends, overall performance, used beverage can trade, material flows and future targets.
South Korea had the highest recovery rate at 96%. This was followed by Vietnam 93%, Cambodia 90%, Thailand 86%, Australia 74%, UAE 33%.
The six countries fall into three broad categories:
- Countries dependent on informal aluminium can collection mechanisms (e.g. Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam). They rely on a high number of informal workers. As cans generate revenue for the sector, these countries report high recovery rates.
- Developed systems (e.g. Australia, South Korea). These rely on complex waste management systems such as extended producer responsibility (EPR) and/or deposit return systems (DRS).
- Transitioning systems (e.g. UAE). Here the collection infrastructure is largely fully developed but does not include mandatory or well-functioning EPR, nor DRS systems.
The aluminium can continues to be the package of choice for the alcohol and soft drinks industries with global consumption expected to increase by 50 per cent between 2020 and 2030 (i.e., from 420 to 630 billion cans annually).
Marlen Bertram, IAI’s Director of Scenarios and Forecasts, says: “This comprehensive study reaffirms what we published in 2022 – that 71% or more of all aluminium cans put on market are recycled globally. The IAI has added processing losses to the delivered data by Roland Berger and can confirm that 79% of all cans put on the market in these six countries collectively end up in recycled ingots for a second life.
“The report highlights key improvement levers including better awareness about the benefits of aluminium can recycling, investment in infrastructure and quality waste streams. It also shows how our industry can play a vital part in advocating for the implementation of schemes that will make a valuable difference in increasing recycling rates for aluminium cans.
“The carbon reduction potential of recycling cannot be underestimated. Recycling of used aluminium products has a huge role to play in the overall decarbonisation of the aluminium industry, because recycling these products emit 0.6 tonnes of CO2e per tonne compared to 16.6 tonnes of CO2e per tonne for primary aluminium. This is why IAI members focus their strategies on decarbonising their primary aluminium production and increasing the use of aluminium scrap, thereby reducing landfilling of aluminium products after use”.
Highlights of the study include:
- Thailand has the best can-to-can recovery rate of those in scope, at 78% of cans put on market – but 14% of cans still go to landfill.
- In the UAE, 67% of cans go to landfill. Of all cans put on market, 20% are used for can-to-can recycling.
- Vietnam’s informal sector generates high quality scrap but has a can-to-can recycling rate of just 1%. A further 92% of recovered cans go into “not C2C” products.
- South Korea has had an EPR system for more than 20 years and has the highest recovery rate of 96% among the studied countries. Only 37% of cans put on market are recovered for can sheet production – a relatively low rate for a country with established can-recycling infrastructure and capacities.
- Australia already has a voluntary EPR scheme, and a DRS scheme (currently in six states out of eight and expected in two more), which helps to reach a recovery rate of 74%. Due to lack of local recycling capacity all cans are exported, 48% for can-to-can recycling.
- Cambodia reports high collection and recovery rates – collection is done by the informal sector which relies heavily on scrap for income. Cambodia has no domestic recycling capacity and its cans are mostly recycled into non-can products.
Abdulnasser Ibrahim Saif Bin Kalban, CEO of Emirates Global Aluminium, noted that “Aluminium is an essential material for the development of a more sustainable society. It takes far less energy to recycle aluminium than to make new metal, but too much still ends up in landfill.
“We must develop both the culture of segregating aluminium such as used beverage cans, and the infrastructure to recycle. We are making progress but much more needs to be done and Emirates Global Aluminium will play its part.
“We are developing recycling facilities, and in the UAE we are working with can-makers, beverage producers and waste management companies to promote aluminium recycling in society.”
Marghanita Johnson, Executive Director of the Australian Aluminium Council, said: “This study shows that even with the advanced policies and infrastructure for recycling in Australia there are opportunities to do better – and that there are actions which can be taken individually and collectively to help improve the rate of can-recycling, to reduce contamination, and to increase can-to-can recycling rates.”
Sandrine Duquerroy-Delesalle, Director, Sustainability & External Affairs at Crown, says: “The superior recyclability of aluminium beverage cans continues to inspire us to raise awareness and build infrastructure for a stronger recovery rate across the globe.”
“Through this new study we have identified effective levers in four key markets for Crown which all actors within the aluminium supply chain can and should take responsibility to action. To utilise these avenues and advance progress, we are hopeful that governments in each of these regions will recognise the critical role they play in establishing proper policy frameworks. It is imperative we have legislative support to reach our goals to reduce our carbon footprint through higher usage of recycled aluminum, both in the immediate and long-term time frames.”
Sachin Satpute, President of Novelis Asia, adds: “Aluminium can-to-can recycling is the most efficient way of saving resources and energy as well as reducing carbon emissions in the industry. Used aluminium cans can be recycled and back on the store shelf as new cans in as little as 60 days.
“Recycling aluminium consumes only 5% of the energy required for primary aluminium production, resulting in a 95% reduction in carbon emissions. In the last 10 years, Novelis has invested and announced $2 billion in recycling capacity worldwide. We will work with key stakeholders in the value chain to advance the circularity of the aluminium can by improving can-to-can recycling.”
The review involved stakeholder interviews, regulation reviews, market and value chain context assessment, data collection reviews and baselining.