Plastic bottles vs aluminium cans – who’ll win the global water fight?

17th October 2019 | Recycling

Global bottled water giants are ramping up trials of easily recyclable aluminium cans to replace plastic that pollutes the world’s seas. Sound like a slam-dunk for the environment? Not entirely.
Aluminium cans might indeed mean less ocean waste, but they come with their own eco-price: the production of each can pumps about twice as much carbon into the atmosphere as each plastic bottle. French group Danone has become the latest company to make a move, telling Reuters it had started to replace some plastic bottles with aluminium cans for local water brands in Britain, Poland and Denmark.

The shift, previously unannounced, comes as multinational rivals like Coca-Cola Co, PepsiCo and Nestle are also launching some canned versions of water brands. The beverage industry has been scrambling to react to public anger over scenes of huge piles of plastic waste contaminating oceans, pledging to step up recycling efforts. However, it’s not black and white on the green front. By increasing recycling via cans, companies could fall back in efforts to reduce their carbon footprints, illustrating the tough juggling act they can face to keep environmentally conscious investors, campaigners and consumers on-side.

Plastic bottles

“That’s the dilemma you’re going to have to choose between,” said Ruben Griffioen, sustainability manager of packaging materials at Heineken, adding the company was trying to reduce both plastic waste and emissions. Recycling plastic is more complex, leads to degradation and has lower reuse rates than aluminium – so the metal has been heralded as a greener alternative. Cans have on average 68% recycled content compared to just 3% for plastic in the United States, Environmental Protection Agency data shows.

New water brands are also making a splash. “Mananalu will rid the world of plastic water containers and start a wave of change,” says the website of the new canned water launched by Hollywood actor Jason Momoa of Aquaman fame. Another entrant, Liquid Death, meanwhile, hails its “eco-friendly cans” and uses the hashtag #DeathtoPlastic.

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