1. Overview
  2. North America
  3. South America
  4. Europe
  5. Asia

Metal—A Permanent Material

Metals, like aluminum and iron, are completely and infinitely recyclable. Because they are elements and never lose their intrinsic properties, metals are recognized as permanent materials, or resources that can be used again and again without loss of quality. When metal products reach the end of their useful life, the product application (like a can) ends, but the metal endures. Other packaging substrates such as plastic and paper do not share this unique sustainability feature.

Mined as the minerals bauxite and iron ore, aluminum and iron are the third and fourth most abundant elements on Earth. Transforming these ores into aluminum and steel is an energy-intensive process, so metal recycling saves significant resources and energy because mining, refining and smelting are not required.

Recycling steel saves 74 percent of the energy required to produce primary steel. Compared to primary aluminum production, using recycled aluminum requires only 5 percent of the energy and consequently reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Recycling plays an important role in Ball’s Cut/4 CArboN target because recycling a can (or any other metal product) reduces the need for an equal amount of more energy-intensive virgin metal and saves resources, energy, GHG emissions and landfill-space—no matter the end use of the resulting new product.

Highest Recycling Rates

Metal cans are the most recycled packaging containers in the world. In several countries, such as Brazil, China, Germany and Switzerland, metal packaging recycling rates are 90 percent or more. However, collection programs in some countries are not performing as well, so we focus our support in these regions.

The metal containers we manufacture are collected through multiple channels, such as local government recycling programs (e.g., curbside), industry recovery efforts and our direct recovery initiatives. The most convenient program for consumers typically is curbside recycling, where all common household recyclables are collected at the curb, requiring only the separation of materials into recycling bins. Because most collection systems are locally managed, a tremendous amount of variation can occur and is challenging.

Recovery programs depend on reliable markets for recycled materials and sufficient revenues to offset collection and processing costs. Because metal cans are the most valuable packaging container in the recycling stream, they often subsidize the recovery of other packages with little or no value.

Truly Recyclable Packaging

Collection programs accept many different packaging types, but that does not necessarily mean that the material will be recycled into a new product. The actual recycling rate is determined by numerous factors, including the use of composite materials, how the package behaves in a material recovery facility and the existence of a viable end market for the material. Metal cans are easily separated from other materials using magnets or “eddy current” technology that efficiently sorts aluminum.

Recycling is an essential part of metal packaging’s life cycle. Aluminum and steel have enjoyed enormous growth rates in their main end-use markets, including packaging, over the past hundred years. Because demand for secondary metal far exceeds the supply and empty cans have a high market value, metal cans are the perfect example of truly recyclable packaging.

Need for Change

Ball is just one stakeholder in the vastly complex collection and recycling system that typically consists of material and packaging suppliers, consumer brands, local governments, waste haulers and recyclers. Because each of these organizations has an interest in packaging recycling and, therefore, a role to help improve recycling rates, we utilize a collaborative approach to enhance packaging collection and recycling.

Though many believe that local governments are responsible for collecting and recovering packaging materials, they in many cases do not have the funding to develop and maintain effective recovery programs. As a result, public and private resources must be better leveraged and coordinated to optimize packaging recovery and create positive change.

Higher recycling rates help make economies more resource efficient, encourage job creation, reduce packaging’s environmental impact, help realize governments’ environmental expectations, and thereby directly benefit our customers, retailers and the metal packaging industry.

Aerosol Recycling

Just like any other metal container, aluminum and steel aerosol cans are recyclable. For the last decade, Ball worked with customers and other partners (such as the Consumer Aerosol Products Council in the U.S. or the British Aerosol Manufacturers' Association in the United Kingdom) to promote the collection of empty aerosol cans. While challenges remain with accurate data on recycling rates and consumer access to recycling, we have made significant progress. For example, the U.K.’s consumer education program MetalMatters, which Ball developed and supports, was instrumental in doubling the number of local authorities that accept aerosols in their recycling schemes from 2011 to 2013 and achieved a 91 percent acceptance rate. Also, more than two-thirds of Americans have access to recycling programs that accept steel aerosol containers.

Dr. Rolf Bayersdörfer
Corporate Director, Henkel Beauty Care, R&D Hair Styling/Aerosols
Henkel AG & Co. KGaA

We expect Ball to support our efforts to develop innovative styling products. By providing packaging materials and recycling solutions that deliver more value to Henkel, our consumers and society at a reduced environmental footprint, Ball enables Henkel to achieve more with less.

Henkel's strategy is to achieve more with less: creating more value at a reduced environmental footprint.

In 2013, Henkel and Ball collaborated on a new, lighter weight aluminum aerosol can for our Fa brand. Using recycled aluminum, Ball created a stronger, lighter alloy while maintaining packaging integrity. This new approach reduced the weight of the can by 10 percent -- a milestone for high-pressure aerosol cans -- and further reductions are still expected.

The new aerosol can clearly contributes to our “more with less” strategy and the use of recycled aluminum is an important step towards "closing the loop" for aerosol cans. In fact, using the appropriate aluminum material quality, we should be able to recycle this can continuously in the future.

Recycling is a challenge that Henkel, Ball and other partners must tackle. Consumers in some countries are still uncertain whether aerosol containers are recyclable and can be placed into recycling bins. Therefore, we applaud Ball’s efforts -- for example, its engagement in the MetalMatters program in the United Kingdom -- to educate our consumers on recycling.

We also see the need to broaden recovery streams in countries like the United States. To this end, joint industry efforts must be strengthened to ensure that all local recovery schemes accept empty aerosol cans, so that consumers can recycle their aerosol cans properly.

By using less material and increasing recycling rates of our aerosol cans, we can reduce the environmental impacts of our products. This is especially true for aluminum packaging. We expect Ball to support our efforts to develop innovative styling products. By providing packaging materials and recycling solutions that deliver more value to Henkel, our consumers and society at a reduced environmental footprint, Ball enables Henkel to achieve more with less.

Customer Perspective

The recycling rate for aluminum beverage cans in North America was 67 percent and the rate for steel packaging was 70 percent in 2013. Over the past decades, these numbers have risen continuously. However, there are many challenges and opportunities to increase packaging recycling rates further. Ball supports numerous recycling programs in North America and will continue working with industry partners to achieve its 75 percent recycling rate goal for beverage cans by 2020. Examples include:

  • The Curbside Value Partnership (CVP) launches and evaluates education programs to increase participation in U.S. community curbside programs, while striving to make them more financially sustainable. Thirty-one cities and counties, and four states have been engaged, and 15 additional communities were awarded grants by CVP in 2013 to help with their local education efforts. CVP partners increased recycling volumes by 23 percent and participation by 18 percent on average.
  • The Southeast Recycling Development Council (SERDC) promotes effective recycling programs and coordinates educational activities in the southeastern U.S. In late 2013, SERDC gathered a group of companies, trade associations and public entities to identify strategic interventions that will significantly increase the recovery of household recyclables. Subsequently, SERDC launched a 120-day process to define models to jointly engage in voluntary public-private partnerships to make strategic, one-time investments that sustain higher recovery levels by adopting proven municipal recycling program best practices.
  • The Colorado Association for Recycling (CAFR) is a nonprofit organization that actively works to promote and encourage recycling through educational programs for Colorado residents, local governments, businesses and elected officials.
  • The 2013 Great American Can Roundup (GACR) School Challenge engaged more than half a million U.S. students, diverting more than seven million beverage cans from landfills. Schools competing in the GACR School Challenge raised $160,000 for future activities and local charities. As part of the annual GACR Industry Challenge, can manufacturers and aluminum suppliers engage their U.S. facilities and surrounding communities to collect cans. In 2013, more than six million cans were collected, raising more than $130,000 for charities. Ball collected nearly three million cans for the industry challenge.
  • Several Ball facilities sponsor a recycling scholarship contest, which offers five $2,000 scholarships to high school seniors who collect the most cans in a six-month period. In 2013, four schools near our Findlay, Ohio, plant collected 280,000 cans. During the contest, Ball employees visited the schools and explained the benefits of recycling.
  • Ball supports several local customer-led recycling programs. In Golden, Colorado, for example, which is home to significant production locations for Ball and one of our customers, residents annually collect approximately 560 metric tons of recyclables at a public drop-off recycling center that is co-financed by the partners.
  • Ball also supports the University of Colorado and some of their sustainability programs, including the “Green on the Screen” contest. During this digital media contest, a partnership between Ball and the University of Colorado Environmental Center, students use their creative skills and digital technology to promote sustainability on campus. The focus of the contest is to promote aluminum recycling and raise awareness on how it ties into the school’s zero waste goal of 90 percent landfill diversion by 2020.


Our Findlay, Ohio, plant piloted a recycling scholarship contest at a regional high school in 2011 and opened the contest to all Hancock County schools in 2012. The contest offers five $2,000 scholarships to the seniors who collect the most cans in a six-month period. Ball employees visit the schools during the contest and explain the benefits of recycling. In November, participants bring their used beverage cans to our plant where the cans are weighed and the six winners are announced.

Thirty four students from four schools participated in the 2013 program, collecting 280,000 aluminum beverage cans.

As part of the national “Great American Can Roundup”, several Ball plants have successfully collected cans from local schools for several years. By adding the scholarship, our Findlay plant helped increase interest in recycling and they developed guidelines for other Ball plants that would like to organize similar programs.

Priority in Action

Latapack-Ball manufactures aluminum beverage cans in Brazil. According to ABAL (the Brazilian Aluminum Association) and ABRALATAS (The Brazilian Association of Can Manufacturers), the 2012 Brazilian beverage can recycling rate was 98 percent – the highest rate for any country in the world. In 2012, Brazil recycled 267,100 tons of aluminum beverage cans, equal to 19.8 billion cans. That means, 2.3 million cans were recycled in Brazil per hour on average during 2012.

While it will be almost impossible to increase Brazil’s recycling rate further, Ball is committed to educating consumers, especially children and youth, about the environmental advantages of beverage can recycling through the following programs and organizations:

  • Latapack-Ball sponsors the annual Praça Ativa project, organized by Instituto Ativa Brasil, a nongovernmental organization. Residents are invited to free festivals throughout the country that provide art, culture, sustainable lifestyles and environmental education, including workshops on the importance of recycling.
  • Escola Ativa is an environmental education project that provides schools, children and teachers with information on how to lessen their environmental impacts. Latapack-Ball supports Escola Ativa in the four regions where we operate plants. Each school receives educational materials and a day-long environmental class so it can serve as a role model to other regional schools. In 2012, Latapack-Ball supported a similar program, which held classes for 200 teachers and provided “It’s Time to Recycle” books and games for children.

In 2012, the average recycling rate for aluminum beverage cans was 70 percent and 74 percent for steel packaging. The metal and metal packaging industry is committed to achieving an 80 percent recycling rate for all metal packaging across Europe by 2020.

Ball manages or supports several projects and organizations that will contribute to this ambitious goal:

  • Originally developed in the U.K. in 2008, Every Can Counts (ECC) encourages consumers to recycle cans when away from home—whether at work, college or other “on the go” locations like festivals, shopping centers or tourist attractions. To create behavioral change, ECC provides eye-catching recycling bins accompanied by creative posters and other promotional tools. In the U.K., 1,300 organizations with more than 3,500 sites signed up for ECC by the end of 2013, creating more than 9,000 collection points. In France, 930 participating sites nationwide, active programs in 25 of the largest cities and promotional activities at 450 events during 2013 contributed to ECC’s success in collecting 12 million cans.

    ECC was so successful that similar programs were launched in France, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Ireland and Montenegro by year-end 2013. More southern European markets are targeted for 2014.
  • With 9.6 billion cans in 2013, the United Kingdom (U.K.) is Europe’s largest single can market, yet metal can recovery has been stubbornly low. To address this, the industry set a goal to increase beverage can collection rates from 54 percent in 2010 to 75 percent by 2017. Launched in 2011, MetalMatters helps local governments educate residents about the value and benefits of metal packaging recycling, motivating them to get involved and recycle more at home.

    While 97 percent of U.K. municipalities provide curbside metal collection, only about 40 percent of the available metal was captured. Ball initiated a project to better understand why participation lagged and the findings were surprising. People wanted reassurance that their recycling efforts really made a difference. To alleviate those engagement barriers, Ball and its partners crafted an innovative communication campaign. Implemented in 33 municipalities in two years, MetalMatters reached more than two million households and became the largest industry-led recycling communication campaign in the country.

    Communities engaged in the program noted an average 13 percent increase in metal packaging recycling. Governments and local authorities have recognized the award-winning program as a best practice in recycling education.
  • The recan fund, founded in 2005 when Ball opened its beverage can plant in Serbia, aims to increase environmental awareness, educate consumers about the advantages of recycling, and make recycling a daily habit. The “Can by Can” program continued its success in 2013 and reached children in 170 schools, employees and visitors in 77 office and restaurant locations, and members of 12 fitness clubs. During the 2012–2013 school year, participating schools collected 380,000 cans. Additionally, 8,000 children and their parents visited recan’s annual theater project, where kids pay the entrance fee of five cans and learn about the environment during the play.
  • The recal foundation’s goals are the same as the recan fund’s, and the organization helped increase Poland’s beverage can recycling rate from 2 percent in 1995 to 76 percent in 2012. In addition to running many annual programs, , the foundation cooperates with The Association For International Sport for All (TAFISA). The main goal of this cooperation is to promote healthy living and environmental stewardship.

    TAFISA, recal and the Polish Ministry for Sport and Tourism invited sport schools across the country to share best practices on how they protect the environment. The best initiatives received an award and their programs were detailed in a booklet so that all schools across the country could learn how to become more eco-friendly.

    During 2013, recal supported 84 sporting events with more than 85,000 participants. For example, the group provided tens of thousands of canned beverages with labels featuring recycling messages to 2013 World Walking Day participants in Poland.
  • Ball started the recycling organization recan in 2004 to support and improve the collection of used beverage cans in Poland. The recan organization operates four recycling centers in Poland and processed more than 25,000 metric tons of used beverage cans (UBCs) during 2012 and 2013. The organization, wholly owned by Ball, also developed new quality standards in 2013 to ensure the high quality of UBC bales that are shipped to Ball’s suppliers for remelting. recan cooperates closely with regional waste recycling companies, local scrap dealers, retail companies, the recal foundation and other partner organizations.

The recal foundation, in cooperation with the Polish Ministry of Sports and Tourism, developed “Cans for Balls,” an environmental awareness campaign that connects two important aspects of sustainable development – sports and resource conservation. In light of the 2012 European Soccer Championships in Poland, numerous public sports fields were built in communities, the so-called “Orliks.”

recal established a communication campaign explaining how players can protect the environment by recycling beverage cans while at the same time doing something good for their Orlik. As an incentive to recycle, the cans collected are sold and the revenues are used to buy sports equipment for Orliks users.

recal and the recan recovery organization provide containers to collect used beverage cans. recan regularly empties the containers, sells the collected cans to aluminum producers and then makes sports equipment available to the Orliks.

Priority in Action

Though beverage can recycling rates in China are very high (estimated at 90 percent for aluminum cans, 75 percent for steel packaging), the environmental benefits of recycling are not well known. Ball launched recan Asia in 2007 to create programs to educate consumers, especially children, about the positive impacts of recycling. recan Asia also conducted research about the behavioral aspects of consumer waste disposal so that effective consumer messaging and education campaigns can be developed.

Because official packaging recycling statistics for China are not yet available, Ball and its customers and industry partners initiated a research project to study the characteristics of packaging waste sent to landfills. After the initial survey in 2010, a 2013 follow-up study allowed scientists at the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Science to evaluate trends.

recan Asia cooperated with the Qingdao Association for Science and Technology and COFCO Coca-Cola Beverages (Shandong) Ltd. on an environmental education program in Qingdao, China. The program ran from April 2011 to April 2012, and aimed to educate consumers about the sustainable characteristics of beverage cans and the benefits of recycling.

Children at schools, two of the city’s science and technology museums and a youth center watched a video about the life cycle of cans, including details about the recycling process. At the end of 2011, more than 21,000 people had viewed the video.

In May 2010, recan Asia organized a can-painting contest in the China National Children's Center in Beijing. The subject of the contest was “Caring for the Earth – Protect the Future.” About 50 children dealt creatively with various actions intended to help preserve the environment.

Priority in Action