As someone who has spent time in Brazil and who appreciates Brazilian culture, I was pleased to learn recently of a fascinating statistic regarding Brazil and recycling.
The country famous for samba, Carnaval and world-class soccer also has an extremely impressive recycling rate for aluminum cans of approximately 99%. That’s higher than the estimated recycling rates for South America as a whole (92%), Europe (76%) and North America (55%).
I learned of this astounding figure from Philippe Meyer, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Novelis, when I talked to him about the company’s new Customer Solution Center (CSC) in São José dos Campos, Brazil. The purpose of the CSC is to bring parties together to address real-world challenges and advance the adoption of aluminum as the material of choice for beverage packaging.
One of the key challenges when it comes to recycling aluminum beverage cans is that they consist of two different aluminum alloys — one for the body and one for the end. When these alloys are melted for recycling, it is not possible to immediately get the two compositions back. You can get one of the compositions, but then some material — specifically, prime aluminum — is needed to get the other composition.
Minimizing the use of prime aluminum — and thus significantly reducing the energy required to recycle aluminum cans — is one of Novelis’s goals.
One possible solution is to develop a “uni-alloy,” i.e., use the same alloy for the body and the end. Another possible solution is to use a specific alloy that can be modified easily without the addition of prime aluminum into the end and the body of the cans.
These potential solutions are wrought with their own challenges, such as achieving the same performance as the currently used alloys and avoiding making the cans significantly heavier.
“We believe there are solutions to that. We have to redesign. We have to rethink the design and the functionality of the can end,” Meyer said. “We cannot do that alone, of course. We have to do that with the can-makers. We have to do that with the fillers. We need the input of the designers and marketing people. And that brings us to the logic of a Customer Solution Center because we have to develop this solution together.”
As Brazilians, known for their optimism, are fond of saying, “Sempre tem jeito,” or, “There’s always a way.”
Here’s to the success of Novelis and others involved in aluminum beverage packaging as they strive to reach ever-higher goals related to circularity, energy efficiency and decarbonization. Achievement of those goals can only be helped by the exemplary gung-ho spirit of Brazilians when it comes to collecting and recycling aluminum cans.
Chief Editor, Packaging Strategies
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