While the materials used in certain products have low, and in some instances no, value at the end of their useful life, metals have high economic value. At the end of 2017, for example, aluminum can scrap from curbside collection in California was worth eight times more than PET, or four times as much on a per container basis (with glass having no economic value).

While metal packaging represents a small share of all household recyclables, it is a significant income for recyclers. In the U.S., for example, aluminum packaging is estimated to be about 1 percent of the recyclable waste stream of households by weight while representing 17 percent of the value. Metals are subsidizing packaging recycling systems, in particular the collection and recycling of materials with little or no economic value. In many parts of the world, sorting technologies and their deployment did not keep up with the pace of change of the recycling mix, increased contamination and municipal recycling system modifications, which is one reason why organizations involved in sorting and recycling are facing economic constraints today.

Now is the time to discuss what is actually recyclable, and what we as society and governments can afford to recycle.


Transforming bauxite and iron ore into aluminum and steel is an energy-intensive process. However, because it does not require mining, refining and especially smelting processes, recycling reduces the energy needed for primary metal production by 74 percent for steel and up to 95 percent for aluminum, and reduces GHG emissions accordingly. No matter the application for which recycled metal is used, recycling a metal product reduces the need for an equal amount of more energy-intensive virgin metal, also saving resources and landfill space.

Whether or not a packaging material will be recycled into a new product (rather than collected and then landfilled or incinerated) depends on various factors such as the use of composite materials, how the package behaves in a material recovery facility and the existence of a viable end-market. According to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, for example, only 14 percent of plastic packaging globally is collected for recycling. Due to additional value losses in sorting and reprocessing, 8 percent is recycled into lower-value applications and only 2 percent of plastic packaging is actually recycled to its equivalent value.

Metal cans, however, are easily separated from other materials, either through magnets or through “eddy current” technology that efficiently captures aluminum. In addition, empty cans have the highest economic value of all packaging materials and demand for secondary metal far exceeds the supply. Recycling is an essential part of metal packaging’s life cycle. Overall, cans represent a perfect example of truly recyclable packaging and a product that fits a circular economy model very well.


Metal cans are the most recycled containers in the world. In several countries, such as Brazil, Mexico, China, Germany and Switzerland, aluminum beverage can and steel packaging recycling rates are at or above 90 percent. However, collection programs in some other countries are less effective and that is where we focus our support. 

The metal containers we manufacture are collected through multiple channels, such as local government recycling programs (e.g., curbside), industry recovery efforts and informal collection schemes. 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 poses challenges when engaging in efforts to increase recovery rates.

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. And such 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. For example, the Aluminum Association reports that the two-year rolling average value per ton commodity price in February 2017 was $1,186 for aluminum, $226 for PET and -$17 for glass.     

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. All stakeholders involved in packaging collection and recycling, including material and packaging suppliers, consumer brands, local governments, waste haulers and recyclers, have a specific interest and, therefore, a role in helping improve recycling rates. That is why we utilize multi-stakeholder partnerships to enhance packaging collection and recycling.



On our journey to position the can as the most sustainable package in the beverage, food and aerosol supply chains, every Ball employee plays an important role in bringing this vision to life. We have considered ourselves ambassadors for our products for many years. For example, through employee donations and grants by the Ball Foundation, we provided more than $550,000 to recycling-related projects around the world in 2017. In addition, U.S. employees logged more than 400 hours of volunteer time for cleanups and educational programs.

In 2017, we rolled out a Ball-wide campaign called “Live the Can Life” to inspire employees to take additional steps and proactively promote the economic, environmental and social benefits of cans. The campaign includes:
  • Key facts to help our employees talk with family and friends about the can’s incredible sustainability story
  • Education and advocacy information about recycling in every region where we operate
  • Ways our employees can get involved in promoting can use and can recycling

One aspect of Live the Can Life is converting all Ball facilities and events into “can zones,” welcoming single-serve aluminum and steel cans and avoiding other substrates at our facilities or Ball-sponsored events.

In early 2018, we also launched the Ball Recycling Can Challenge. By mobilizing our employee base at all of our facilities around the world and engaging them in local can recycling initiatives, we strive to increase recycling rates, raise awareness about the infinite recyclability of metal packaging and create a meaningful impact in the communities where we operate.

Through this competition, our facilities can gain financial support for their internal and external can recycling programs. By reaching out to, and working with, local community organizations and schools to promote recycling, and focusing efforts on capturing additional cans that would otherwise not have been collected, we create net economic, environmental and social gains.

North America

South America


Africa, Middle East & Asia