Last year, Atlanta aluminum manufacturer Novelis, which produces beverage cans for everyone from Coca-Cola to Budweiser, kept more than 40 billion beverage cans out of landfills globally by buying them back for recycling.
Now the company is kicking up the effort a notch with a product it calls evercan — a drink can designed to have a longer “shelf life” than the typical recyclable can.
Leaders say evercan is made up of at least 90 percent recycled materials — one of the highest proportions in the aluminum industry — and can be reused over and over because the packaging breaks down easier because of the concentration of the components.
“It’s a process we can do infinitely,” John Gardner, Novelis’ Chief Sustainability Officer, said of recycling the can. “We just take off the lacquers and melt down the metals.”
Recycling is important to Novelis. An almost decades-long glut of aluminum has kept supplies around the world high and prices low. Falling interest in canned soft drinks also is taking a bite out of growth, with a reported 2 percent to 4 percent decline in demand for cans in North America this year.
That makes cutting costs by reusing the cheaper recycled material all the more important. Novelis said it has spent about $500 million over the last two years in an effort to double its global recycling capacity to 2.1 million metric tons by 2015.
The company added that recycling aluminum requires 95 percent less energy, and produces 95 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than manufacturing from raw materials.
By 2020 the company, which gets its recycled materials from about 15,000 suppliers around the world, wants 80 percent of its aluminum supply to come from recyclables.
“We pay communities a lot of money for scrap,” Gardner said. “This makes good sense economically and environmentally.”
Novelis competitor Alcoa also has made a commitment to increasing recyclables in its cans, but only Novelis has so far created a product almost entirely made from recycled material across an entire product line, said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president for California-based environmental group As You Sow.
“I really think this is a game changer,” MacKerron said. “This is environmental leadership and should be commended.”
It’s particularly significant because companies increasingly are focusing their environmental efforts on water stewardship and reducing their carbon footprint instead of improving recycling technology, McKerron said. Several environmental groups, for instance, have launched an effort to get food giant Kraft to change the packaging of its popular Capri Sun juices, whose aluminum and plastic packaging they claim is difficult to recycle and ends up littering landfills.
Novelis has partnered with Marietta’s Red Hare Brewing Company as the first user of evercan, a relationship Red Hare founder and Chief Executive Officer Roger Davis said was symbiotic. Three-year-old Red Hare, the third fastest-growing brewery in Georgia, has made recycling part of its business practice, including using recyclable cans, recycling cardboard boxes and donating grain left over from its manufacturing process to a local pig farmer.
“Evercan fits into what we do,” Davis said. “It’s recyclable and the packaging has the portability we were looking for.”