Reflecting on Climate Week 2023 with Ramon Arratia, Ball’s Chief Sustainability Officer

October 25, 2023

Climate Week in New York City last September has arguably set the groundwork for COP28, instilling a sense of urgency to find and deliver concrete solutions to tackle climate change at scale.

In every session, roundtable, and panel I participated in, the discussions revealed that sustainability is becoming more and more about business strategy, innovative supply chain collaboration, and public affairs. And that the uphill battle to reduce Scope 3 emissions faster will produce winners and losers at an accelerated rate, with sectors and materials with high circularity potential (and, hence, lower decarbonization costs) better hedged than others.

At Ball, we believe circularity should be a central part of broader plans to drive climate action in this critical decade – and we are committed to doing our part to enable it.

Leveraging Aluminum’s Competitive Advantages to Drive Circularity

The aluminum industry is a “hard to abate” sector, as primary aluminum production is an energy-intensive process largely reliant on fossil fuels. However, rigid aluminum packaging is a strong candidate to be one of the first industries to achieve net zero among the “hard to abate” sectors, because aluminum’s intrinsic qualities enable circularity, i.e., they drastically reduce waste and maximize the reuse and recycling of the resource, thus lowering emissions.

Aluminum can be recycled again and again with minimal losses, has a high residual value, and recycling aluminum only takes 5% of the energy needed to make new aluminum. Moreover, it is easy and economically viable to handle, remelts at 700° C, and its 12:1 compaction rate allows for lower reverse logistic costs. Systemic circularity – collecting, sorting, re-melting and then making a new container – is more challenging and expensive for other packaging materials to achieve in the near-, medium- and long-term.

Ball’s competitive advantage relies to a great extent in our ability to become a fully circular and decarbonized business. With circularity as the key lever in our Climate Transition Plan, we aim to achieve 90% recycling rates and, with that, enable 85% recycled content by 2030 in aluminum beverage cans, bottles and cups across all markets – something that is entirely feasible with current technologies and by leveraging policies already implemented in several countries.
Reflecting on Climate Week 2023 with Ramon Arratia, Ball's Chief Sustainability Officer
Reflecting on Climate Week 2023 with Ramon Arratia, Ball’s Chief Sustainability Officer

How We Get There: Innovation, Policy and Collaboration

To move towards a real circular economy, we need to change the way we think about products, services markets, ownership and resources, and the packaging industry must prioritize adopting and enabling innovative solutions.

The entire value chain should work together and alongside governments in a co-learning, co-creation process to address the technological, financial and policy changes needed to move towards circularity.

Across our aluminum can value chain, we are committed to identifying and acting upon every available opportunity to achieve our targets by partnering with suppliers and customers, sending strong demand signals to unlock technological development at scale, and supporting decarbonization pathways.

Appropriate policies are essential. Specifically, Ball advocates for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which mandates businesses to collect and recycle, and Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), which makes collection and recycling of beverage packaging more efficient. In Europe, for example, collection rates above 90% are commonly achieved in countries where a robust DRS is in place. And governments that integrate both policies have the highest success in increasing collection rates and recycling rates. 

Stakeholder engagement goes a very long way, too. Despite being one of the largest consumers of aluminum cans in the world, Brazil achieved an impressive 100% recycling rate of aluminum cans in 2022. This resulted from the country’s 30 year investment into recycling programs and partnering with policymakers, cooperatives, waste pickers associations and local businesses. Brazil’s success demonstrates the power of a collective effort toward circularity, and the major economic opportunity for waste collectors, recyclers, industrial materials users, recycling equipment providers and other stakeholders.
Reflecting on Climate Week 2023 with Ramon Arratia, Ball’s Chief Sustainability Officer

What’s next?

As a first mover and risk taker, sustainability is at the core of Ball’s strategy, and we are committed to advancing circularity and aluminum sector decarbonization. But we cannot do it alone. Our objective as an industry must be to move beyond empty words and work together effectively to implement solutions and drive climate action at pace and scale. Companies and governments should not let their stake in the old prevent them from pursuing a stake in the new. This feeling was palpable at New York Climate Week, and I look forward to continuing the discussion and disrupting in meaningful ways at COP28. Onward!