Is Aluminum the Answer to Our Plastic Problem?

Updated: Jun 30

With 91 percent of plastic worldwide going unrecycled, you can start to feel like you’re drowning in it. Not only that, but there seems to be no better alternatives as everything turns to waste. The good news is that’s not the case for aluminum. Not only is it infinitely recyclable, but the production process keeps evolving to become more sustainable for you and our environment.

Nothing’s Perfect, But the Choice is Clear

It's safe to say that there is an environmental impact in nearly everything we do. This is certainly true for the mining and production of aluminum. Many people fear aluminum’s production methods outweigh their positive recycling impact. These questions clearly show how much people care for our environment, so we address it gladly.

Aluminum Keeps Getting Better and Greener

Aluminum’s primary carbon footprint is a result of the energy needed to extract metal during mining operations. However, major leaders in the industry like Ball Corporation are making big strides to only produce with 100 percent recycled aluminum by 2030. This is possible because every can made is infinitely recyclable. In fact, 75 percent of all aluminum ever mined is still in circulation today. This is an astounding number when you compare this to plastic, which is recycled only 9 percent of the time.

In addition, the average aluminum can is made of 69 percent recycled aluminum, while brands like Mananalu rest above average at 73 percent. But what does this mean for the metal’s ecological footprint?

According to the Aluminum Association, recycling aluminum saves approximately 90 percent of the energy it takes to make new aluminum. Not only does the aluminum recycling movement minimize energy, but it also eliminates the harmful need for mining bauxite ore, the material from which aluminum is extracted.

Aluminum is also a lightweight material, which reduces space concerns, transport needs and energy required for cooling. Simon Lowden, executive leader of Pepsi’s plastics drive, said: “That means in some markets aluminum would actually not produce as much greenhouse gas.”

Plastic is Devastating, Even When “Recycled”

According to The Guardian, in 2018 “the equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers of American plastic recycling were exported from the US to developing countries that mismanage more than 70% of their own plastic waste.”

For much of the last 30 years, the majority of our recycling has been outsourced to China. With recent changes in our trade agreements, America has been forced to export its recyclable waste to less productive recycling facilities. Out of the scarce amount of plastic that can be recycled, most is lost, mismanaged and thrown into landfills regardless of recyclable capability.

It’s Complicated, But We’re Making a Difference Together

Our plastic problem is a big one, but there are solutions. Despite bumps in the road, people are finding ways to improve our circular economy and environment despite the fact that plastic isn’t keeping up.

However, for this movement to truly work, we have to be recycling. No matter who you are, make sure your aluminum ends up where it can give back to a better future. Over and over, and over again.

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