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Report examines use-phase GHGs for aluminum vs. glass, plastic

The greenhouse gas emissions from the refrigeration and transportation of beverages in aluminum cans versus glass and plastic packages are compared.

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According to a new study conducted for the Aluminum Association by ICF International, the combined greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the transportation and refrigeration of beverages in aluminum cans are lower than those associated with that of beverages in glass or plastic bottles under the same conditions.

Overall, the study finds that on a per-liter beverage basis,emissions associated with transporting and cooling aluminum cans are 7% to 21% lower than plastic bottles and 35% to 49% lower than glass bottles, depending on the size of the comparative bottles as well as the types of refrigerators in which beverage is cooled prior to consumption.

On a per-container basis, the associated emissions of a beverage packaged in a12-oz aluminum can are 45% lower than in a 12-oz glass bottle and 49% lower than in a 20-oz plastic bottlewhen delivered and chilled in small markets and convenience stores.

The study analyzed the standard serving size for each container, which can vary, as well as a per-ounce equivalent. In both scenarios, the shape, dimensions, weight, and material of the aluminum can offered higher packaging and cooling efficiencies that resulted in less energy needed and lower emissions.

“As the world focuses on low-carbon solutions, it is important to understand where the opportunities are to make a real difference,” says Heidi Brock, President & CEO of the Aluminum Association. “The study underscores the advantages of the aluminum can when it comes to sustainability.”

The goal of this study is to provide greater insight into the life-cycle GHG impacts and energy use associated with the transportation and refrigeration of aluminum beverage containers, and how these impacts compare to alternative beverage containers. While theproductionandrecyclingof beverage cans have been studied previously, the new research considered emissions associated with the service life of the product—the so-called “use phase.”

“As more attention is paid to carbon emissions associated with the entire value chain of a product, the Aluminum Association asked ICF to look at the carbon footprint of a beverage container’s use phase,” says Marian Van Pelt, Vice President at ICF International. “Across all scenarios studied, aluminum has lower associated use-phase emissions than comparable glass or plastic containers.”

Key findings include:

  • Transportation:The space efficiency and lower packaging weight during transportation offered by aluminum results in35% lower emissions than glass bottleson a per-ounce basis.
  • Refrigeration:Space efficiency during beverage cooling allows for lower GHG emissions for aluminum cans compared to both glass bottles and plastic bottles. The largest GHG emissions savings from aluminum cans compared to other containers are seen in supermarket refrigerators.
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