Last week we looked at two myths surrounding metal drinks cans and how they are recycled and revealed the truth behind the misconceptions. We discussed how aluminium cans are the most recycled drinks container in the world and there are many straightforward methods for collecting metals for recycling, such as MetalMatters and Every Can Counts.
This week, we take a look at another two myths around beverage can recycling, and how cans in fact have an infinite recycling lifespan.
3. There’s only one type of recycling
What’s the difference between closed and open loop recycling?
Firstly, closed loop recycling can be defined in two ways. The first is where the maximum amount of material is recovered and waste is minimised, with the end result of reducing overall environmental impact. In the second definition, a ‘closed loop’ model is where the waste collected is turned into a new product of the same type, for example, recycling a drinks can to make a new drinks can.
Open loop recycling is the process where material from one or more products is recycled and made into a different product, for example, a drinks can could become part of a new bridge or a car next time around. Often a material’s properties degrade when recycled and transformed from one product into another – this is known as downcycling. However, metal is a permanent material and structurally unalterable, so when it’s is melted down for reuse, what goes in is the same as what comes out – even when heated to extreme temperatures.
Neither type of recycling is intrinsically better than the other. What is important is real recycling. This is when as products reach the end of their useful life, the materials used are simply collected and recycled, again and again, with no loss of their inherent properties.
4. The lifecycle of metals is finite
Many materials can only be recycled a limited number of times without losing quality but as metals are permanent materials that maintain their physical properties forever, they can be infinitely recycled.
Carbotech’s definition of a permanent material is one: “whose inherent properties do not change during use and despite repeated recycling into new products. Its recycling does not necessarily require the addition of primary material or additives to enable the basic material function and properties.” Metals are special as no other packaging material today is delivering on that.
What may start out as a drinks can, can be melted down and then turned into another can for example, or an iron, a car or perhaps even an aeroplane wing. Or, it could simply be back on the shelf as another drinks can. Next time you consume a canned drink, remember that its life doesn’t end once its empty. Because it’s made from permanent material, if you put in the bin, it could be back as another drinks can in as little as 60 days.