Aluminum cans are lightweight, convenient, portable, and keep beverages cold. They are often used to package soda, beer, and other beverages, and account for nearly all of the beverage packaging market for some products.
Just the Facts
- In 2011, the United States generated about 1.9 million tons of aluminum as containers and packaging. About 1.6 million tons of aluminum were used to make durable and nondurable goods, such as appliances and automobile parts.
- The total amount of aluminum in the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream3.5 million tonsrepresented 1.4 percent of total MSW generation in 2011. In 1960, aluminum in MSW was only 0.4 percent of MSW generation (340,000 tons).
- Americans discarded about 2.8 million tons of aluminum. The largest source of aluminum in the MSW stream is used beverage containers and other packaging containers.
- In 2011, 55 percent of aluminum beer and soft drink containers generated were recycled (about 0.7 million tons).
- Automobiles also contain aluminum, but this aluminum is generally not calculated in measures of MSW generation, recycling, or disposal.
More Aluminum Information
The Aluminum Association is the trade association for producers of primary aluminum, recyclers and semi-fabricated aluminum products.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries is a trade association representing the scrap processing and recycling industry. It represents 1,400 companies that process, broker, and industrially consume scrap commodities, including metals.
The Can Manufacturers Institute is the trade association for can manufacturers and their suppliers.
The Container Recycling Institute is a nonprofit organization with a goal of educating policy makers, government officials and the general public on the impacts of the production and disposal of no-deposit, no-return beverage containers and advocates producers taking responsibility for their packaging.
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources Aluminum Cans and Scrap Commodity Profile (PDF) (8 pp, 173K, about PDF) includes a national overview on the markets for recovered aluminum cans and scrap.
Individuals and haulers can deposit and collect aluminum used beverage containers (UBCs) at the curbside or community drop-off centers. From there, haulers take the cans to a material recovery facility (MRF), where workers separate aluminum cans from other food and beverage containers. Since most recovered UBCs are processed into new cans, it is important that processors generate only high-quality scrap. The recovered aluminum containers must be free from dirt and other foreign substances. The MRF or a scrap dealer then bales the cans, which brokers and can sheet manufacturers purchase.
Can sheet manufacturers typically have arrangements with toll processors to refine the metal and melt it into ingots, which are solid metal blocks. The can sheet manufacturers then melt the ingots to make cans, and then sell the cans back to the beverage industry.
Markets for Recovered Aluminum
UBCs are the largest component of processed aluminum scrap, with most UBC scrap manufactured back into aluminum cans. Diecasts used by the automotive industry constitute the second largest portion of recovered aluminum. In the future, increased demand for fuel-efficient, lightweight cars is expected to make aluminum more popular in automobile manufacturing.
Source reduction is the process of reducing the amount or toxicity of waste generated. Because aluminum can be easily recycled, it has been able to reduce the amount of raw material needed to make the same product. Data from the Aluminum Association shows that the weight of aluminum cans has decreasedin 2011, 35 cans could be made from a pound of aluminum, up from 22 cans in 1972.