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Aluminum is recycling’s new best friend, but it’s complicated

Can drinking water out of a can really save us?

Recycled aluminum is coming for your water and your iPad. Making products out of used aluminum is now a way for companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Apple to show a commitment to greening their manufacturing. Customers are supposed to be able to sleep a little better at night knowing that the shiny thing they bought did some good for the planet. But is aluminum’s future as bright as the hype suggests?

6D彩票网开户The man formerly known as Aquaman sure thinks so. in April that he’s partnering with Ball Corporation to produce a line of canned water, called Mananalu. Saying goodbye to Aquaman and the other bearded characters he’s played, the action star caused a buzz when he shaved off his beard on camera to promote aluminum as the cure to Earth’s giant plastics problem. “Plastics are killing our planet. And I think I have a solution,” Momoa says in the video, clippers in hand. “There’s only one thing that can really help our planet and save our planet, as long as we recycle, and that’s aluminum.”

6D彩票网开户He’s not alone. and announced this year that they’re working to roll out water packaged in aluminum as part of their efforts to cut down on plastic waste. There’s also the line of drinks that claims to “murder your thirst” with mountain water in “eco-friendly cans.”

The tech sector wants in on the aluminum revolution, too. During this month’s Apple event, the tech giant announced that its new iPads and Apple Watches would feature components fashioned from 100 percent recycled aluminum. The announcement builds on the commitment it made last year to make the enclosures of its MacBook Air and Mac mini out of the recycled material. “We’re pioneering a future where we no longer need to mine precious materials from the Earth to make our products,” Apple said in its 2019 environmental responsibility report.

of all plastics ever made have been recycled, according to a study published in the journal . It found that 6.3 billion of the 8.3 billion metric tons of all the plastic ever made has become waste. What to do with all that plastic became an even bigger dilemma for the United States last year after that it’s no longer accepting low-grade plastics for recycling.

ICOAST-ENVIRONMENT-POLLUTION
Plastic bottles and other waste float in the water near the Port of Abidjan.
Photo by Issouf Sanogo / AFP / Getty Images

6D彩票网开户Recycling aluminum saves about 90 percent of the energy it takes to make new aluminum, which is great since mining bauxite ore and turning it into aluminum is pretty environmentally destructive and energy-intensive. It takes about twice as much energy to produce new aluminum as it does to produce new plastic.

to landfills. What if instead of buying either a plastic bottle or6D彩票网开户 aluminum can to quench our thirst, we took a trip to the water fountain or refilled a reusable thermos?

. There hasn’t been as much incentive to can water in the past because plastic is cheaper. The added cost of aluminum might have made more sense for pricier drinks like beer and soda that could also benefit from the added shelf life that canning provides. But the use of aluminum for beverage packaging has been on the decline as people started to . Uday Patel, senior research manager at Wood Mackenzie, tells The Verge that this trend could change as a result of the bad reputation that plastic bottles seem to be getting. And the plastics industry, he believes, is “concerned.”

The aluminum fad isn’t just taking over the beverage industry. When it comes to electronics, Apple making its products with 100 percent recycled aluminum might set a promising precedent, but the net environmental benefits aren’t totally clear yet.

In 2017, aluminum was responsible for about a quarter of the company’s carbon footprint from manufacturing, according to its environmental responsibility report. The following year, the company said that it reduced emissions from aluminum in its products by 45 percent. “What they’re trying to do is, is quite difficult, quite complicated. And in many ways, I think they should be lauded for their use of recycled aluminum,” says Josh Lepawsky, a professor at Memorial University who maps the international movement of electronic waste.

has fallen off since 2018. Historically, much of that demand has been tied to industries like cars and construction, but some experts think that new interest from the canning industry could give the tapering aluminum demand a boost.

“Certainly with some of our contacts within the industry, we’re hearing of increasing interest in use of aluminum can stock,” Patel tells The Verge6D彩票网开户. “All of a sudden it’s gotten a little bit more sexy you know it’s become a little bit more buzzworthy.”

Apple Unveils New Product Updates At Its Cupertino Headquarters
Apple’s Stan Ng talks about the new Apple Watch series 5 during a special event on September 10th, 2019.
Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

6D彩票网开户So, the aluminum shift is complicated. It could pay off for the planet, but only if products made with recycled materials replace those made with new aluminum and plastics — and if consumers worry more about cutting down on their waste than they do about which type of bottle to buy. But perhaps the bright spot in considering these questions is that it puts the spotlight on all of those environmental impacts of manufacturing, versus focusing mostly on what happens at the end of a product’s life.

6D彩票网开户“All too often, the concern around the environmental impact of electronics focuses almost obsessively on what happens to consumer’s devices after they supposedly throw them away,” says Lepawsky. “The amount of pollution and waste that occurs on the manufacturing side of things is hugely larger than the weight of materials that consumers get rid of, in the aggregate, after they stop using their devices.”

Update January 21st, 10:00AM ET:6D彩票网开户 This article has been updated with a video and information about global demand for aluminum.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Wood Mackenzie is an energy research company. An earlier version of this post stated it was a chemicals company.

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