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Aluminum cans have lower carbon footprint than glass or plastic containers, finds new study

DBR Staff Writer Published 04 August 2016

New study conducted for the Aluminum Association by ICF International, found that the combined greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the transportation and refrigeration of beverages in aluminum cans are lower than those associated with that of beverages in glass or plastic bottles under the same conditions.

Overall, the study finds that on a per liter beverage basis, emissions associated with transporting and cooling aluminum cans are 7% to 21% lower than plastic bottles and 35% to 49% lower than glass bottles, depending on the size of the comparative bottles as well as the types of refrigerators in which beverage is cooled prior to consumption.

On a per container basis, the associated emissions of beverage packaged in a 12-oz aluminum can is 45% lower than in a 12-oz glass bottle and 49 percent lower than in a 20-oz plastic bottle when delivered and chilled in small markets and convenience stores.

The study analyzed the standard serving size for each container, which can vary, as well as a per-ounce equivalent . In both scenarios, the shape, dimensions, weight and material of the aluminum can offered higher packaging and cooling efficiencies that resulted in less energy needed and lower emissions.

Aluminum Association president & CEO Heidi Brock said: "As the world focuses on low-carbon solutions, it is important to understand where the opportunities are to make a real difference.

"The study underscores the advantages of the aluminum can when it comes to sustainability."

The goal of this study is to provide greater insight into the lifecycle GHG impacts and energy use associated with the transportation and refrigeration of aluminum beverage containers, and how these impacts compare to alternative beverage containers.

While the production and recycling of beverage cans have been studied previously, the new research considered emissions associated with the service life of the product – the so-called "use phase."

ICF International vice president Marian Van Pelt said: "As more attention is paid to carbon emissions associated with the entire value chain of a product, the Aluminum Association asked ICF to look at the carbon footprint of a beverage container's use phase.

"Across all scenarios studied, aluminum has lower associated use-phase emissions than comparable glass or plastic containers."

Key findings include:

Transportation: The space efficiency and lower packaging weight during transportation offered by aluminum results in 35% lower emissions than glass bottles on a per ounce basis.

Refrigeration: Space efficiency during beverage cooling allows for lower GHG emissions for aluminum cans compared to both glass bottles and plastic bottles. The largest GHG emissions savings from aluminum cans compared to other containers are seen in supermarket refrigerators.

Source: Company Press Release