Greening the Aluminum Can: We Can Do It

Amid the brouhaha about New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on the sale of large-size sodas, it’s worthwhile to pause and consider some unintended consequences. Some have commented that they will simply buy two or more smaller sodas to have the equivalent of one large one, defeating the point of the proposed new law — and adding to the amount of waste in the city’s often-filled-to-the-brim trash cans.

While soda cans are often deposited into recycle bins, recycling the cans themselves is not as profitable as it would seem to be as the basic can is made from two types of aluminium, notes the New York Times’s Green blog:

The bottom and sides are made from an aluminum sheet that is strong enough to be stamped into a round shape without tearing. For the top, which must be stiff enough to help the can retain its shape and withstand the bending force when it is opened, can makers blend aluminum with magnesium.

Melting down cans creates a blend of the two types of aluminum that cannot be used for either purpose. Considering that new aluminum sells for almost $2,000 per metric ton, cans that could be recycled and melted down to be reused should be worth about 2.5 cents each (calculating that it takes 75,000 cans to make a metric ton).

As Philip Martens, president and chief executive of Novelis, explains to the Green blog, manufacturers usually mix recycled material with new aluminum, to dilute the magnesium and make the metal usable for can bodies. Alternately, more magnesium can be added to make a stiffer material for can tops.

Novelis notes that it uses 39 percent of recycled materials for its products and that it would like to raise the amount of cans recycled from about 50 percent to 80 percent. There are definite advantages to making cans from recycled aluminum. It takes about one-eighth of the fuel to make a can from aluminum from recycled cans as it does to make one from virgin aluminum.

As the Green blog details, Martens of Novelis is showing a can made from a single metal at a convention of aluminum industry executives:

The trick, he said, is to anneal the metal, treating it with heat so that it becomes strong enough to withstand stamping to become a can body.

“Ultimately you want to get this to be a closed-loop system, where you are working end to end, starting with the consumer and ending with the consumer,’’ he said. A can could come off a supermarket shelf one day and travel to the consumer’s kitchen, the recycling bin, the smelter and then the can manufacturer, returning to the supermarket in 45 to 60 days, he said.

Martens noted that he has been discussing the possibility of a single-metal can with various companies.

Assuming that Bloomberg’s large-size soda ban passes, could calls to “green” the receptacles those smaller-size sodas are served up in be next?

Related Care2 Coverage

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Photo by brad montgomery


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Terri Hughes
Terri Hughes5 years ago

I think that Mayor Bloomberg just wasted his time on banning large size soda. People will just but two drinks. Drinking soda isn't good for you, but banning large soda's isn't going to stop people from drinking them. People are going to do whatever they want, anyway!!

Vicky Barman
Past Member 5 years ago


Kathy Mitro
Past Member 5 years ago

Wow this is one aspect of this soda ban law (which I believe is an erosion of freedom) that I did not think about.
While we are greening cans lets do something about the hundreds of billions of pounds of edible food decomposing in out landfills each year.
To green our food lets let it decompose the way nature intended it to through the digestive system of a hungry person, instead of in a landfill decomposing into methane gas producing global warming.
Support the Mitro/McHenry Mandatory Food Rescue Donation Law for all food establishments

Angela N.
Angela N5 years ago


Vicky Pitchford
Vicky P5 years ago

bs green crap, Elaine? I don't see the problem in trying to make the world better

Michael C.
Michael C5 years ago

Recycling aluminum cans saves. How much?

Roughly, recycling saves enough electricity to run a TV for over 3 hours.

Steve R. You have stated, "I get about $24 for a full garbage bag of cans.
" WoW!

You must live in Michigan or California, where it is 0.10 per can x 240 cans =$24.00

Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Melissah Chadwick
Past Member 5 years ago


Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad5 years ago

I'm so tired of this BS 'Green" crap that I'm about to change my favorite color to another! Aluminum is already used for so many good purposes that these green freaks really need to go back to mars...After all mars is known as the green planet...No air their, but then again, no air here either getting to the brains of these freaks!