Recycling & Sustainability
Metal cans are unique in that recycling them has a significant environmental and economic impact that occurs today at mass quantities and that impact can happen over and over again because metal recycles forever.
Beverage Cans: Making a beverage can from recycled aluminum reduces energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by more than 90 percent compared to using new aluminum.
Food Cans: Making a food can from recycled steel means 75 percent less greenhouse gas emissions and energy use compared to using virgin steel.
Aluminum and steel generate revenue for recyclers, with aluminum beverage cans typically the most valuable material in the residential recycling stream. Looking at metal recycling generally, it has a greater economic impact and supports more American jobs than the recycling of all the other commodities combined.
The beverage can’s existing circular system recycles 42.7 billion cans each year in the United States. That is the equivalent of 11 12-packs per person and more than 5 million cans each hour. This scale and the fact that most recycled cans get turned into new cans is how the average aluminum beverage can in the United States has 73 percent recycled content. Further, these recycled cans go from recycling bin to store shelf as new cans in about 60 days. Steel food cans are also recycled at scale with a 71 percent recycling rate.
Aluminum and steel maintain their structural integrity during the recycling process and can be recycled infinitely. In contrast, the plastic in flexible pouches is rarely accepted in residential U.S. recycling programs, and plastic (PET) bottles can be recycled a maximum of 10 times with a third of the material lost in the recycling process. The can industry is committed to building on its leading recycling rates to generate additional environmental and economic impact.
Use the section headers on the left to further explore why metal cans are the textbook example of the circular economy and the shining stars in the recycling system.
Below are two infographics that highlight the beverage can’s economic impact and environmental impact.