Almost 90 years toasting can in hand, like this every January 24 for 87 springs. The chin chin of the toast that sounds is perhaps more metallic, but it is the usual companion of many Spaniards, since 6 out of 10 claim to consume beverage cans at least once a week.
Easy to transport and very resistant, the can displaced glass as the material par excellence in packaging. A few days after the fall of the Dry Law in the United States, the American company Krueger marketed the first canned beer in history. In Spain, the landing was slower and its appearance did not take place until the end of the 1960s with the sale of Skol International Lager in 1966 by Cruz Blanca.
“Since its appearance on the market it has been a continuous evolution,” explains Juan Ramón Meléndez, director of the Association of Beverage Cans.
A transformation linked to its usability, “at first they were very heavy and difficult to open,” says Meléndez, “so complicated that a can opener was necessary,” he adds. It was not until 1965 that its use became popular with the manufacturing of two drawn parts by the die-cutting, drawing and stretching procedure.
As the success of these containers grew, their weight began to decrease. Its popularity was also an environmental achievement, since, unlike glass or plastic, the aluminum in cans is a 100% recyclable material. “From that can you can make another can and so on infinite times and it does not lose its hardness or its malleability,” adds the director of the Association of Beverage Cans.
In recent decades, cans have decreased their weight by 30%, “the sheet that gives life to cans is 10 times thinner than a human hair,” says Meléndez. “It’s interesting, because now there is a lot of talk about ecodesign and the can industry has been doing that for a long time,” reveals Pablo García, director of ‘Cada lata Cuenta’ in Spain and a doctor in Ecology.
The new life of the can
Made of steel or aluminum, depending on where on the planet, “the grace lies in the fact that it has infinite recycling properties,” says García. “With a simple gesture like depositing the can in the yellow container, we guarantee that it is 100% recycled, guaranteeing a totally circular economy,” he adds.
A new life that, precisely, starts in the famous yellow containers present in most Spanish cities. “The recycling rate in Europe is 76.5%,” says Juan Ramón Meléndez. The figure is similar in Spain, where seven out of ten aluminum cans are recycled. “The goal is to reach 100% in 2030,” Meléndez bets.
After reaching these, the can begins its rapid resurrection “in 60 days,” says García. “It is important that no can is lost,” adds the person in charge of the ‘Every can counts’ initiative.
The trucks collect the containers that are transported to the selection plants. It is already in these facilities where they are separated by materials: steel containers are selected with magnets, and aluminum containers with eddy currents. “The most efficient is the yellow container, but if it is thrown into a bin there will also be possibilities for recycling the cans thanks to this technology,” says Pablo García. “Only that some are lost if they don’t go to yellow directly,” adds Meléndez.
After separation, the cans are compacted creating bales, which can weigh more than 1,000 kg and contain more than 65,000 cans, destined for melting furnaces at 700ºC.
After being crushed and remelted, huge aluminum ingots are obtained which, after being rolled by large coils, are converted back into aluminum cans “or a paella pan”, reveals the director of the Beverage Cans Association. Thus, “in two months the can returns to the market,” says García.
A packaging transformation cycle is completed as part of the circular economy which, in the case of cans, reduces water consumption by 70% and energy consumption by 95%, compared to manufacturing a can with new raw materials .