Beer Institute Roundup: Pandemic Slows Can Recycling; US Will Not Impose Tariffs on European Beer


Aluminum cans are recycled at nearly twice the rate of plastic and glass beverage containers, according to Can Manufacturers Institute VP of sustainability Scott Breen.

Breen and Sara Axelrod, director of sustainability for Ball’s North and Central America operations, joined Beer Institute CEO and president Jim McGreevy for a webinar to discuss cans’ environmental impact.

“We recycle 120 million beverage cans every day in the United States,” Breen said. “That’s 45 billion a year. That 45 billion is equivalent to 12 12-packs per person being recycled every year just in this country.

“And the vast majority of those 45 billion cans being recycled get turned into new cans, and that’s how we’re able to have 73% recycled content on average in our cans,” he continued.

Cans are a hot topic for the nation’s brewers, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of bars and restaurants for several months. Without on-premise venues to visit, Americans began to drink more beer at home, and cans picked up the slack in the market left by draft beer. Ball, the world’s largest manufacturer of aluminum cans, said inventory is likely to be sold out or severely tight for the remainder of the year.

Recycling rates have declined since the pandemic began, Breen said, adding that some of the 10 states that add deposits to recyclable items have paused recycling enforcement. Without the return of the 5 or 10 cents paid, consumers have less incentive to recycle. Both California (-30%) and Oregon (-40%) have seen considerable declines in redemption.

“We were advocating with certain states about how important it is to get those deposit systems fully functioning and most states are now enforcing it at retailers,” Breen said, noting that residential recycling rates have increased.

Both Ball and other can manufacturers are working to increase production to meet demand. Announced projects will add an additional 12 billion units by the end of 2021, Breen said. Half of that is expected to come from Ball’s new facilities and new production lines at existing plants.

In recent years, craft breweries have shifted their packaging to cans stickered with labels or shrinkwrapped with plastic sleeves because custom printed cans must be ordered in quantities larger than their needs. The effect of these stickers and sleeves on the recycling process is small, Breen said.

“They still make up such a small portion of cans that they don’t impact the recycling process — they burn up, they’re oxidized, that is then used to power the system,” he said. “If we got too many of those cans, it would start to cause issues, but right now it’s OK.”

Alternative methods for branding cans are being developed, such as digital printing, Breen said.

In other aluminum concerns of late, the CMI has begun talks with the Canadian embassy in the U.S. about tariffs President Donald Trump imposed on aluminum imported from Canada last week. More than 60% of the primary aluminum that becomes can sheet for aluminum cans comes from Canada, Breen said. The CMI is hoping to dissuade Canada from enacting retaliatory tariffs.

“We don’t want any slowdown in the primary that’s coming in that we need,” he said. “Consumers want it, and we’ve got to make sure that we deliver this essential container for consumers and to deliver on the promises we made to our customers, so we’re strongly encouraging both countries to start those negotiations to remove these tariffs.”

Beer Exempted from EU Tariffs

On Wednesday, beer was excluded from the list of goods imported from the European Union to be tariffed, the office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert E. Lighthizer confirmed.

In June, the USTR office published a notice proposing tariffs up to 100% on goods — including beer — imported from France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. Late last month, the BI implored Lighthizer’s office to leave beer out of potential tariffs, which were proposed in retaliation after a World Trade Organization ruling in 2019 that the EU gave subsidies to France-based Airbus, which hurt U.S.-based Boeing.

“The U.S. beer industry is already facing a heavy burden of taxes and tariffs, and the Administration should not compound the situation by imposing duties on nonalcoholic and alcoholic beer from the EU,” McGreevy wrote in a letter to Lighthizer’s office. “Taxes, in one form or another, account for more than 40% of the price of every beer sold in this country.”

If applied, American beer could have been subject to a retaliatory tariff in Europe. The proposed tariffs would have applied to beer imported from France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, countries that imported a combined 783,171 barrels last year, according to the BI.

“There are simply not enough imports to make a duty anything other than a penalty on U.S. beer consumers,” McGreevy wrote.

BI Seeks No Change Recommended Daily Servings of Alcohol

Earlier this week, McGreevy delivered remarks to the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) 2020 scientific report, which suggests dropping the recommended daily limit for men from two alcoholic drinks to one.

“My request of you is simple: Maintain the current moderate consumption guidelines for alcohol,” McGreevy said.

The DGAC is working to develop the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

According to the report, adults in 41 states consume more alcohol per capita and exceed government recommendations laid out in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy People 2020 plan. In light of this, the report recommends the DGAC adjust its guidance on alcohol to:

  • “Do not begin to drink alcohol or purposefully continue to drink because you think it will make you healthier.
  • If you drink alcohol, at all levels of consumption, drinking less is generally better for health than drinking more.
  • For those who drink alcohol, recommended limits are up to one drink per day for both women and men.”

These recommendations from the Beverages and Added Sugars Subcommittee did not follow DGAC review protocol, McGreevy said. He pointed to comments from past DGAC alcohol subcommittee chair Dr. Eric Rimm who said science guiding alcohol consumption recommendations has not changed, so they should remain the same.

“Beer is enjoyed responsibly by millions of adults every day,” McGreevy said. “Basing the dietary guidelines in the eligible science in the [Nutrition Evidence Systematic Review] will mean Americans can trust the recommendations for how they should continue to enjoy alcohol in moderation if they choose to drink.”

The DGAC accepted public comments on the 2020 scientific report from July 15 through August 13, and is expected to make a decision by the end of the year.

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