Are Aluminum Bottles Greener than Glass?

AluminumBottle.jpgAluminum as a substitute for glass bottles has been inching its way into the consumer experience in the last few years, most notably in the US in the form of beer bottles from Anheuser-Busch and Iron City Beer, a popular regional brand founded in Pittsburgh. Coca-cola has also announced plans to roll out aluminum bottles in this country, though only in limited venues.
Now Rexam, one of the world’s largest consumer packaging companies, has developed a lighter, resealable aluminum bottle that it hopes will replace glass bottles for many beverages, including wine.

Weighing Renewability
Rexam uses a manufacturing process, DWI, or “drawn wall ironed,” which uses substantially less metal than impact extrusion, a more common method. The company claims that the low weight of their bottle, 20 grams (.75 oz), compared to 180-200 grams for glass, markedly decreases its carbon footprint, in the form of lower manufacturing and distribution costs.
But there are many factors to consider when determining environmental impact. As Slate explained in an article for St. Patrick’s Day, while aluminum may be lighter than glass, aluminum takes more energy to extract from the ground and to manufacture. Bauxite mines, which produce the raw ore for aluminum, have also been involved in environmental controversies.
On the other hand, about 45 percent of aluminum cans are recycled, versus a mere 25 percent for glass bottles. And most aluminum cans have more recycled material than glass bottles. In fact, two thirds of the aluminum ever produced is still in use today.
The conclusion? Locally bottled beers are best served in glass, especially if your town has a strong glass recycling program. On the other hand, if you drink ales that hail from across state or national borders, aluminum cans are the way to go. Presumably this applies to the slightly heavier aluminum bottles, if and when they arrive in bars and supermarkets en masse.
By the way, the greenest option for drinking a brew is from the tap.
Other Links:

In-depth Comparison of Glass versus Aluminum (Triple Pundit)
How Green is My Bottle (NYTimes)

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

3 responses

  1. It’s also important to point out that making glass has impacts as well. Some calculate this could be as much as 2 tons of CO2 per 1 ton of glass. A typical recipe of glass includes sand, soda ash, and limestone with some dolomite and feldspar thrown in, then it’s all baked in blast furnaces. A great article on this is found at Treehugger:
    It would be interesting to do a total impact comparison of the two materials.

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