Aluminum Beverage Cans: Driver of the U.S. Recycling System


With funding from Ardagh Metal Packaging and Crown Holdings, the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) is taking a comprehensive approach to spurring the installation of additional can capture equipment in material recovery facilities (MRFs). It started with foundational research in 2020, a grant program with The Recycling Partnership in 2021, and now lease and grant financing options, as well as tools for MRF operators to see their return on investment of additional can capture equipment. See below for more information. MRF operators interested in having testing done at their facility or financing options from CMI should reach out to Scott Breen, CMI’s Vice President of Sustainability, at   





A study conducted by Gershman, Brickner & Bratton, Inc. (GBB) for CMI, Aluminum Beverage Can: Driver of the U.S. Recycling System, found that the relatively high value of used beverage cans (UBCs) make them essential to the country’s network of MRFs. In fact, the report found that without the revenue from UBCs, most MRFs in the United States would not be able to operate without making significant changes that would ultimately affect the cost of recycling to consumers. Still, the report also found that up to 25 percent of UBCs are missorted at a typical MRF, which do the important job of sorting single stream recyclables. This can missortation finding was a primary motivator for the grants, leases, tools, and other aspects of the effort to spur the installation of additional can capture equipment in MRFs.


Cans Drive Recycling Webinar


“In 2018, about 13 million metric tons of metal went to the landfill and were unrecovered. Of that 13 million tons about 1.5 million tons were aluminum used beverage cans. At current commodity values, that’s a $1 billion opportunity that’s being missed.” - Jon Powell, Vice President, Closed Loop Partners

“Ultimately, we are processing more tons per hour, which allows for a better return on investment. We estimate that this upgrade decreased the contamination of containers in our paper by 50%.” - Kate Davenport, Co-President, Eureka Recycling

“We have a robot on our residue line that has been programmed specifically to prioritize high-value materials such as used beverage cans.” - John Hansen, Co-Owner, Single Stream Recyclers

“Once a can starts to get flattened either in a “pancake” or a “puck,” it may end up on the residue or paper line. This material is sent to the landfill or ends up as a contaminant in the paper bale. In this scenario, the MRF is ultimately either paying to throw the cans away or creating lower-quality paper bales.” - Jeff Lacey, Senior Staff Scientist, Idaho National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy

“If an average MRF processes 50,000 tons per year of recyclables in a non-bottle bill state, that could mean that MRF is losing 275 tons of UBCs in a year. This comes out to 18.5 million cans and nearly $300,000 in lost revenue, which would be about 8.3 percent of that MRF’s gross revenue stream.” - Corinne Rico, Project Manager, Gershman, Brickner & Bratton

“Aluminum producers and can makers are able to easily turn used beverage cans into new aluminum cans that have a low environmental footprint because of the high amount of recycled content.” - Scott Breen, Vice President for Sustainability, Can Manufacturers Institute

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Scott Breen, VP of Sustainability, CMI |