Much progress still needs to be made in aluminium cans recycling

15 September 2023 3 min. read

Recycling efforts in Australia and several Asian countries has played a pivotal role in the aluminum sector's capacity to lower its carbon emissions.

There is an opportunity to reduce CO2-equivalent emissions by a staggering 60 million metric tons annually by 2030 if countries can manage to reach efficient recycling of used aluminum cans. That is according to a report from strategy consulting firm Roland Berger, which looked at the state of aluminum can waste management in Australia, Cambodia, South Korea, Thailand, the UAE, and Vietnam.

The study underscores the importance of these endeavors in preparing for an anticipated 50% rise in global beverage can consumption from 2020 to 2030, which would generate around 3 million metric tons of used cans each year.Much progress still needs to be made in aluminium cans recycling

The report found that South Korea boasted the highest level of aluminum recycling of the six countries, with an impressive 96% overall recovery rate. However, only 38% of the cans introduced into the market are reclaimed for can sheet production, a relatively low rate for a country with well-established can recycling infrastructure and capabilities.

Following South Korea, the countries with the next highest recycling rates are: Vietnam at 93%, Cambodia at 90%, Thailand at 86%, Australia at 74%, and the UAE at 33%.

In Vietnam, the informal sector contributes significantly to generating high-quality scrap, but the recycling rate for cans that will be remade into cans (can-to-can) stands at a mere 1%. This means that only 1% of used cans are recycled back into sheet material for the production of new cans, while the remaining 92% are utilized in other aluminum products.

Cambodia reports impressive collection and recovery rates, with collection activities mainly conducted by the informal sector, which relies on scrap for income. However, Cambodia lacks a mature domestic recycling capacity, and most of its cans are recycled into non-can products.

Thailand, despite being ranked fourth in overall recovery, has the highest can-to-can recovery rate among the countries under study, standing at 78% of cans introduced to the market. Nevertheless, 14% of aluminum cans still eventually end up in landfills.

Much progress still needs to be made in aluminium cans recycling

Australia employs a voluntary extended producer responsibility scheme and a deposit return scheme, which is currently operational in six out of eight states and expected to be implemented in the remaining two in the near future. These efforts contribute to Australia's recovery rate of 74%. However, due to a lack of local recycling capacity, the majority of cans are exported, and the country achieves a 48% rate for can-to-can recycling.

In the UAE, approximately 67% of cans end up in landfills. Among all the cans introduced to the market, only 20% are utilized for can-to-can recycling.

In an era marked by a growing emphasis on sustainability, aluminum recycling is emerging as a crucial pillar in improving sustainability footprints of countries. The recycling of aluminum not only conserves valuable resources but also significantly reduces energy consumption, contributing to a more eco-friendly and sustainable future.

There have been global shortages of aluminum in recent years, sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic and then further exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, because Russia is a major producer of aluminum and many Western countries abruptly ended trade with Russia.