New Orleans calls it Mardi Gras, and Brazil calls it Carnaval.
The lively celebration of this annual event isn’t the only thing that Brazilians and the residents of New Orleans have in common. Both have displayed a strong commitment to the recycling of aluminum cans.
In that same spirit, Novelis Inc., a leading provider of sustainable aluminum solutions, recently opened a Customer Solution Center (CSC) for the beverage packaging market in São José dos Campos, Brazil. Around the same time, Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) worked with local organizations in New Orleans to recycle aluminum beverage cans during Mardi Gras 2023.
Novelis’s new Customer Solution Center (CSC) in Brazil will serve as an innovation hub in a facility designed for collaboration, most notably with beverage can makers, brand owners, other industry suppliers and scientific partners.
Bringing these parties together will inspire ideas and accelerate innovation that will address real-world challenges and advance the adoption of aluminum as the material of choice for beverage packaging. Designed to encourage creativity, the state-of-the-art, 3,000-square-meter facility features modern laboratories, training rooms, and collaboration space.
“The beverage business is in growth mode, and aluminum is quickly becoming the material of choice for beverage can packaging, so we need to be prepared for increased demand as consumers recognize the many drawbacks of other, less sustainable packaging materials,” said Greg Schlicht, Senior Vice President, Global Can Sales at Novelis. “In addition, our customers are seeking to elevate package appearance, and aluminum cans provide an ideal, 360-degree canvas for eye-catching, upscale graphics and product branding. We are committed to investing in innovation to maximize these opportunities.”
Driving the need for constant innovation are the following market trends:
- Consumers desire more sustainable packaging — Today’s consumers are driving a shift toward aluminum as the environmentally friendly choice for beverage can packaging. As the largest producer of aluminum sheet for the beverage packaging market and the largest recycler of used beverage cans, Novelis is leading the market through innovation and customer collaboration.
- The beverage market is expanding — Today’s consumer is demanding and consuming more varieties of packaged beverages, including water, energy drinks, soda, beer, wine, hard seltzers, and other ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages. As the market grows, the need for sustainable aluminum packaging increases, further driving the need for capacity and innovation.
- Interest in specialty cans is growing — Consumers are looking for different packaging options in terms of function and appearance, resulting in new specialty shapes, sizes and surface finishes. In fact, Novelis responded to market demand with its recently launched black-laminated aluminum can end sheet.
Philippe Meyer, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Novelis, notes that in Brazil, the recycling rate for aluminum cans is an astounding 99% — much higher than in other countries.
“I think it’s cultural. I think it’s really in the DNA of the Brazilians: You should not lose value. You should recycle,” Meyer said. “Communities organize themselves to collect, and there is a complete network to get this aluminum back to industrial players. This is really in the DNA of the people, and it works very well.”
CMI’s Recycling Effort at Mardi Gras
In that same recycling spirit, Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) catalyzed a partnership with a variety of local organizations in New Orleans to recycle more aluminum beverage cans during Mardi Gras 2023.
Instead of going to landfill, many thousands of aluminum beverage cans were sold for revenue that CMI doubled and went to charity or local residents. Notably, the aluminum in those beverage cans will now be available to be turned into new cans.
In total, 142,974 used beverage cans (UBC) were collected and sold to a local metal recycling facility, generating $3,854 (UBC market value of $1,927 plus CMI financial match) for local charities and residents.
Nearly all (93%) of recycled UBCs become new cans, which means these empty cans will almost certainly be turned into new ones. Additionally, more aluminum available to be recycled enables the aluminum beverage can industry to build on the beverage can’s average 73 percent recycled content, which will lower the greenhouse gas emissions associated with aluminum beverage can manufacturing.
In fact, the carbon emission savings from recycling the cans collected in this initiative is equivalent to the emissions from driving a car a little more than 35,000 miles.
The Mardi Gras pilot program, Recycle Dat, collected UBCs in two ways:
- Having four recycling hubs and 10 can-only receptacles at strategic points along the most-used parade route during the daytime parades for the two weekends before Mardi Gras Tuesday. Volunteers staffed these strategic points and used a variety of mechanisms to get empty beverage cans from parade-goers. These mechanisms included specially designed backpacks for people to directly insert their empty cans for recycling, over-sized shopping carts, and grabbers to easily pick up UBCs.
- Encouraging people to directly drop off UBCs at the centrally located EMR metal recycling facility in Mid-City New Orleans.
UBC collection during the initiative supported local charities and allowed people to earn extra cash. CMI doubled all the revenue generated from selling the UBCs collected along the parade route. The money raised was split between three local charities — Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Louisiana SPCA, and New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.
CMI also doubled the market rate payout for UBCs brought directly to EMR, and redeemers could either put the money toward the three local charities or keep it. Two-thirds of the cans collected were brought directly to EMR, and the rest were collected along the parade route.
“The structure of Recycle Dat’s can recycling component was an approach only aluminum beverage cans are able to support given their relatively high economic value,” said Scott Breen, vice president of sustainability at CMI. “In a quest to turn trash into treasure, we are very proud that this pilot effort resulted in nearly 150,000 aluminum beverage cans recycled and sold for revenue instead of going to landfills. We are excited to collaborate with local partners again next year to increase the ability for Mardi Gras partygoers to recycle even more of their used beverage cans, generate more money for charity and local residents, and turn more used beverage cans into new cans.”
“CMI was proud to collaborate closely with many local partners on the recycling effort,” Breen added. These partners included the local sustainable events non-profit Grounds Krewe, the City of New Orleans, the local tourism organization New Orleans & Company, EMR, and a variety of local breweries. A full list of partners is on the Recycle Dat website.
This effort is one of many activities that CMI is undertaking to make progress toward the ambitious aluminum beverage can recycling rate targets set by CMI beverage can manufacturer members (Ardagh Metal Packaging, Canpack, Crown Holdings, and Envases) and aluminum can sheet producer members (Constellium, Kaiser Aluminum, Novelis, and Tri-Arrows Aluminum). The targets involve going from the most recycled beverage container in the United States with a 45 percent recycling rate in 2020 to a 70 percent rate by 2030, 80 percent by 2040, and 90 percent or more by 2050.
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