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How sustainable are aluminium cans in comparison to bottles?

For good reasons, different suitable beverage packaging is used depending on the type of beverage and the type the beverage is consumed which does not allow to give a simple answer to this question

A study from the Federal Institute of Ecology Switzerland from 2014 has analysed the ecological balance of beverage packaging in detail.

Aluminium cans are easy to transport and 90% are recycled (note by the author: in Switzerland), but the production costs for primary aluminium are relatively high. The fact that the ecological profile of the aluminium can is competitive with other beverage packaging is due to its lightweight and high recycling rate.

It is the option with a lower environmental impact than one-way glass bottles and thus the most ecological option for beer in many shopping centers.

Transport efficiency is one main lever that compares different packaging (all 330 ml) for a 32-ton truck as follows:

  • 21'000 liters in cans
  • 9'850 liters in glass multi-use bottles
  • 13'650 liters in glass one-way bottles

Returnable glass bottles are a very good option when the return of the containers can be assured and when it takes place over a short distance. The study mentioned above states: "From more than 230 km, it no longer makes sense from an environmental point of view to use returnable glass bottles."

One-way glass bottles are in any case among the beverage packaging with the highest environmental impact. This is mainly due to the high weight of one-way glass bottles and the fact that, although the bottles are used only once and the fact that although the bottles are recycled after a single use, they have to be melted down again at 1600 °C, which requires a lot of energy. From this point of view, the suitability for disposal is less good than for other types of packaging.

Based on the study it can be summarised that aluminium beverage cans are significantly more sustainable than one-way glass bottles and achieve a similar or better outcome in comparison to returnable glass bottles when these are transported for 230 km or more.