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Counting on Cans

August 22, 2023

By Greg Schlicht, Senior Vice President, Global Beverage Packaging

The future has never been brighter for aluminum beverage cans. No other drink container has the same high-powered combination of sustainability, marketability and durability. Add the fact that aluminum cans are lightweight and quick to cool and you’ve got what we think is a perfect container for the full range of beverages on the market today.

Where convenience used to reign supreme, sustainability now wears the crown. A 2023 McKinsey and Company survey of 11,500 consumers in 11 nations shows they want sustainable packaging to address issues of hygiene and food safety, water and air pollution, climate change and ocean litter among other global concerns. Those drivers were deemed to be extremely or very important for a large majority with most saying they are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.

Both consumers and brands are placing more value on sustainable packaging and looking for ways to reduce their environmental impact without sacrificing product quality or convenience. Aluminum beverage cans neatly fit the bill, going from recycling bins back to store shelves in as little as 60 days. Aluminum is also infinitely recyclable, which supports a truly circular economy. In fact, aluminum cans are the most recycled beverage packages in the world and 75% of the aluminum ever produced is still in use today.

Recycling an aluminum beverage can saves approximately 95% of the energy that would be required to manufacture the same product from primary aluminum. In 2022, Novelis recycled 2.3 million tons of aluminum, including more than 82 billion used beverage cans.

Sustainability is far from the only reason that aluminum cans are in high demand. While comprising only 3% of a product’s weight, they are incredibly strong, do an excellent job of protecting beverages during transport and are sealed to block light and oxygen for maximum freshness.

Marketers love the fact that cans offer a 360-degree canvas for product branding. One glance at store shelves shows that brand owners are maximizing their packaging to grab consumers’ attention with bold colors and graphics. These branding opportunities are key reasons aluminum beverage cans are now the package of choice for a growing range of products – cold brews, canned cocktails and seltzers, and energy drinks, just to name a few.

With so much going for it, does the aluminum beverage can still have room for improvement? I say yes. At Novelis, we are working to increase the percentage of recycled content in aluminum beverage can sheet. We are doing this by creating new alloys that are able to accept even greater amounts of recycled aluminum, entering into partnerships to support improvements in collection and sorting technology, and making further investments in new plants to recycle greater amounts of aluminum. Today, Novelis’ beverage packaging sheet is comprised of more than 80% recycled content.

As part of its overall objective of being carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner, Novelis has invested heavily to grow recycling capacity, with nearly $2 billion of completed and announced investments from 2011 to date. Every investment made in beverage package recycling thus far has resulted in important steps toward a circular economy and, while the future for cans has never been brighter than it is today, Novelis believes there is plenty of room for improvement.