Aluminum, Glass, or Plastic: How reusable is it really?

In the past two days, busily struggling to finish my thesis and shovel my way out of a Mid-March snow, I got a chance to have two different lectures as far apart from sustainability as possible on the surface – metal castings and beer brewing – that brought back together our dear friend Recycling. You see, the Aluminium industry prides itself on the 100% recyclability of its products, where, for instance, your friend the beverage can, uses two alloys of Aluminum, one for the body and one for the lid to join together the product you enjoy every day often. While the body (to be painted) uses small percentages of Manganese, the lid uses Magnesium to produce the signature surface appearance of all aluminum cans, while increasing the strength of the alloy to handle the higher demands of the lid.

In the remelting process of aluminum cans, however, these impurities can make recycling challenging and require the use of new Aluminum mined from bauxite as Novelis reported in 2011 to have recycled aluminum as only 39% of its input material for Aluminum products. Since then, Novelis has worked on its Evercan concept (Alcoa no doubt has been doing something similar), to increase the recycled content in aluminum cans as below.


As seen in the infographics below, recycling aluminum cans is a big business in the U.S., although we are a far cry from the 98% recycling success of Brazil, and in just 60 days, that aluminum can you recycled will be used again as another aluminum can, something that you can not say with plastic bottles, many of which end up as other products, like the pens Lauren wrote about last week, not as new plastic bottles.



Ok, before I lose you, let’s look at a local example in the Charlottesville Community: Three Notch’d Brewery¬†started commercial operation at the beginning of last semester in August. From what I could see on day 1 of the best class ever: Beer Brewing, in a short 8 months Derek, Scott, and George have put together a micro-brewery that’s growing fast (wait until you have a taste…). What was cool along the first part of my final Thursdays at UVa spent at Three Notch’d for me, was along the way the elements of sustainability Scott identified. By strictly sticking to aluminum cans, Three Notch’d not only saves money with cheap recycled cans, they truly believe in the durability and sustainability of aluminum cans compared to their brown glass counterparts. While brown glass can easily be remelted and reinjected, it can’t be easily be stored in palettes without fear of breaking or nearly as guaranteed to be fully recycled.

Cans oh Cans at Three Notch’d Brewery
Kegs on Kegs Waiting to be Reused (Then Drank.)

By sticking to cans and kegs, Three Notch’d controls it’s sustainable loop to the end consumer. With thermally efficient brewing process through the help of heat exchangers, enough re-feed lines to make any Chemical Engineer proud, recycling of spent grains to be used as livestock feed on local Albemarle farms, and distribution centrally located to Charlottesville, Waynesboro, and Fredericksburg, Three Notch’d is proving successful in a quite Charlottesville essence: local, sustainable, efficient.


Scott also mentioned possible future plans to use the wide expanse of roof space (it’s located in an old dairy factory) to use solar panels to offset the large energy consumption of its three phase pump motors, lighting, and equipment. Too far out to know how likely they will do that, but cool to hear that it is even being strongly considered, another great reason why Charlottesville has been a great incubator for green initiatives in the Central VA area.

This entire space could be solar panels! Right in Charlottesville!
This entire space could be solar panels! Right in Charlottesville!


So, I will leave you with this. The next time you decide on your beverage of choice, ignore that plastic bottle (which you already do for water) or brown glass bottle and reach for an aluminum one. It’s an easy way for you as a consumer to demand cradle to cradle thinking out of the products you buy, and as Aluminum bottles gain popularity (as or potentially even more recyclable than cans), future consumers can have the benefit of your work.

Oh by the way, my fave Arizona Green Tea and newcomer Peace Tea have been kicking away at this for years, delivering that same 99 cent price with a delicious tea tall boy. And no, I won’t be sharing my beer from Three Notch’d.

Next Month on my Radar:

Green Event with ITS during Earth Week to get the most use out of your Cloud Storage and collecting your e-waste!

How I recycle at my apartment

Another Sustaina event

HellUVA Earth Week

Charlottesville Earth Week

Bike Safety Event during Earth Week and Wellness Week (co-sponsored event), working with BIKE UVA to gain an audience for their event right after ours, we may give away some bike lights!

Final Results from Sustained Mobility: A Draft Plan!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Very informative post. Thank you

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s