Are Aluminum Cans Better for the Environment than Plastic Bottles?

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

Across the globe, citizens from every country have started to realize the ramifications of plastic bottle use. Pollution in our waterways and oceans, buildup in our landfills, and the slowdown of recycling have all started to wake people up to the consequences of plastic bottle use. However, plastic bottles are not humanities only source of single use waste, but just one of many.

While many environmentally conscious citizens have chosen to give up disposable plastic bottles, it is very common to see hundreds of people a day drinking out of aluminum soda cans. I myself have even been guilty of thinking that my sparkling water cans wouldn’t hurt the environment too bad as long as I recycled. Well, it turns out I was wrong.

Are Aluminum Cans Bad for the Environment

Yes. Any single-use, the disposable product will have negative effects on the environment. To produce the aluminum used to make cans, companies must first mine for bauxite, which has been shown to be disastrous for the local environments where these mines are located. A 2017 study conducted on one of these mines in Malaysia proved that the bauxite mining damages the local environment pollutes the air and water surrounding it and creates health concerns for miners and surrounding citizens.

America produces small amounts of bauxite in several of its mines in states like Georgia or Arkansas but obtains the lion’s share of its bauxite from other countries. This creates excess greenhouse gas emissions in the shipping process and places the environmental burdens of mining on mainly third world countries.

However, as the recycling rate for these cans increases, so too does the sustainability of their use. We must work towards a higher recycling rate, especially in the United States.

Plastic or Aluminum, Which Should I Choose?

While we recommend avoiding any single-use drink container, if you are faced with the choice of plastic or aluminum, go with aluminum. Due to the extreme thinness of the plastic used in drink bottles, the plastic is actually not recycled into other bottles. If the bottle is recycled, the material is broken down into fibers and used to make items like carpet, clothing or other plastic-based materials. This means that plastic bottles can only be recycled once, if at all. Aluminum cans, on the other hand, can be recycled multiple times and lose less material during the process, making them better for the environment than plastics. However, Resource Recycling reports that only 49.4% of cans are actually recycled in the United States, meaning that 1 in 2 cans used ends up in the landfill. The recycling rate in Europe is almost 75% for aluminum cans, a massive jump up from 54% in 2010!

While aluminum may be better than plastic bottles for the environment, it does not mean that it should be your first choice. If you want to reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment, we highly recommend giving up any form of single-use drink packaging, no matter how good those seltzer waters may be.

What do you think about aluminum cans? Do you still use them? Leave us a comment below and let us know what you think!

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Earthen Futures is a sustainability blog dedicated to keeping global citizens informed on ways to fight climate change and reduce their carbon footprint. We overview the latest environmental studies and research to provide you with the best available information on ways you can help the environment and make the world a better place.