Aluminum hits back on 'green' critiques

The Aluminum Association is fighting back against what it perceives to be mistreatment on sustainability issues.

During the same week in mid-April, the Aluminum Association issued press releases responding to statements from a plastics trade association and an Internet magazine. Both cases involved comparisons of aluminum packaging to plastic from an environmental viewpoint.

The first statement was a response to a release from the PET Resin Association about a study PETRA had commissioned on the relative environmental footprints of plastic and metal containers. The study, by Franklin Associates, compared PET bottles, aluminum cans and glass bottles. It found that, when calculated on the basis of material needed to package 100,000 ounces of a soft drink, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles outperformed both other kinds of containers in total energy, solid waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Aluminum Association’s response blasted the study for having used what it called outdated data for aluminum. It claimed that the data was from 1995, and that “more current data shows a 15% improvement in energy efficiency and a lowering of greenhouse gas intensity by 30%” since then.

The second release was a response to an article on, “Wrap Session: Is plastic wrap greener than aluminum foil?” The article, part of Slate’s “Green Lantern” series on ecological questions, stated that “most people seem to believe intuitively that aluminum foil is better for the planet,” but went on to note that on a foot-by-foot comparison, plastic wrap comes out ahead in fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, human health impacts and aquatic toxicity.

The Aluminum Association’s response asserted that the Compass tool of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, cited in the Slate article, used toxicity measures and supporting data that “are hotly debated in the LCA [lifecycle assessment] field and are not widely accepted measures at this time.”

The release also quoted Aluminum Association President Steve Larkin: “The most important question that wasn’t asked [in Slate’s article] was, ‘Which product protects food the best?’ The answer to that is aluminum.” However, the Slate article did end with, “[N]o matter what you use to cover your leftovers, the important thing is that the food stays fresh and tasty.”

We'll pay for PLA, startup firm says

A new company will take on the sometimes tricky business of aggregating and recycling packaging made from polylactic acid (PLA).

BioCor LLC, based in Concord, Calif., promises to pay recyclers a competitive price for used PLA packaging. It “will also collaborate on PLA recycling pilot projects and work with federal, state, and municipal entities, non-governmental organizations, consumer groups, and recycling organizations,” according to the press release announcing its inception.

PLA recycling has been a touchy subject among recyclers, who generally do not welcome the material. Because of its low melting point, it has the potential to contaminate batches of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the most commonly recycled plastic. PLA is still relatively rare in retail packaging, and some recyclers say there’s not enough of it to warrant the equipment and/or labor it would take to segregate the material from the waste stream.