Can manufacturers and recyclers have leapt to the defence of aluminium cans after the chief executive of Coca-Cola suggested that the cans have a higher carbon footprint than recycled PET bottles.
Earlier this month, James Quincy, chief executive of the Coca-Cola Company, told Reuters that a recycled PET bottle has a lower carbon footprint than an aluminium can or glass bottle.
Playing down suggestions that coca-cola would be switching away from plastics, he said: “A recycled PET bottle has a much lower carbon footprint than an aluminium can or a returned glass bottle.”
Responding to this, the Can Manufacturers Institute – the trade association for the can manufacturing industry in the US – put out a statement affirming the ‘sustainability advantages’ of aluminium packaging.
Key among their arguments are claims that aluminium drinks cans are the most recycled packaging type in the world, with most containing a significantly higher recycled content than plastic bottles. The Institute believes that the carbon footprint of both containers is broadly ‘comparable’.
The UK’s aluminium recycling organisation, Alupro, told letsrecycle.com that while it could not comment on Coca-Cola’s remarks, calculating carbon emissions was complex and two different life cycle assessment (LCA) models could produce two very different results.
“There are many different factors that need to be taken into account when looking at sustainability”
Rick Hindley, executive director of Alupro, said: “It is not an exact science and LCAs do not take into account all issues like littering and when plastics end up in the oceans. For instance, most aluminium cans are recycled in Europe, whereas most plastics are recycled in the Far East.”
He also pointed to the fact that, unlike plastic bottles, aluminium cans can be recycled infinitely.
He said: “Generalisations are not helpful. There are many different factors that need to be taken into account when looking at sustainability.”
When contacted by letsrecycle.com, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola European Partners – which is Coca-Cola’s representative for much of Europe – sought to distance the company from Mr Quincy’s comments, affirming that it was not simple to say that one form of packaging was better for the environment than another.
She said: “We believe all packaging formats have a role to play in delivering our drinks – that includes glass, plastic and aluminium. All packaging has a potential environmental impact, so it’s not as simple as saying one format is better than another for the environment.
“Virgin or recycled PET has a lower carbon footprint than aluminum or glass that contains little or no recycled content, but the more recycled content used in any type of packaging, the lower the carbon footprint.”
The spokeswoman added that Coca-Cola was committed to collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of the bottles and cans it produces by 2030.
She added: “We fundamentally believe packaging should not be seen as waste, but as a valuable material that can be used again and again. Ideally for us, that means turning old packaging into new packaging.”
Coca-Cola’s comments came as the company today (November 20) announced the roll out of new paper-based packaging on multipack cans.
The ‘KeelClip’ represents a ‘first’ for the non-alcohol industry, according to Coca-Cola.
This new type of packaging replaces the plastic wrap and also minimises the amount of paper/card required, according to Coca-Cola.
As part of this initiative, Coca-Cola’s bottling partner, Coca-Cola HBC, will remove shrink wrap from all of its can multipacks in all European Union markets by the end of 2021.
This will save 2,000 tonnes of plastic and 3,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, the company said.
Marcel Martin, group supply chain director at Coca-Cola HBC, said: “Alongside the four water brands we introduced this year in 100% recycled PET bottles, the increased use of recycled PET and continued lightweighting across the portfolio, KeelClip™ is another demonstration of our commitment to delivering our World Without Waste goals.”