- AB InBev and miner Rio Tinto have formed a partnership to deliver new sustainable aluminum cans, the companies said in a statement. As part of the memorandum of understanding, the two companies would work with supply chain partners to produce AB InBev products in cans made from low-carbon aluminum.
- The companies said the partnership will initially focus on North America. AB InBev will use Rio Tinto’s low-carbon aluminum made with renewable hydropower along with recycled content to produce a more sustainable beer can. This could cut carbon emissions by more than 30% per can compared to similar ones produced today using traditional manufacturing techniques in North America.
- The beverage industry has been aggressively turning to more sustainable packaging in recent years to cut waste. Last year PepsiCo said it was testing out aluminum cans for its Aquafina water, and Carlsberg debuted a sustainable paper beer bottle prototype.
As consumers place more value in sustainability and the environment when it comes to their purchasing decisions, a growing number of CPG companies are looking for ways to improve the packaging they use for their products. In many cases, the changes come as part of a broader commitment by multibillion-dollar corporations to follow through on a pledge several years out to become carbon neutral or to have a certain percentage of their packaging come from renewable sources.
In the search for better options, paper, cardboard and aluminum have been among the most coveted. In addition to PepsiCo trying out cans for Aquafina, Vita Coco introduced a premium water brand last year called Ever & Ever that touted recycle-friendly aluminum.
"We recognize that we are a single-use packaging business and it is our responsibility to have a point of view and to think about how we can really neutralize our impact," said Jane Prior, chief marketing officer at All Market, parent company of Ever & Ever. "When you think about a category where there are multiple options for consumers to eliminate their plastic consumption, it's definitely the water category."
Roughly 75% of aluminum ever produced in the U.S. is still in use today, according to the Aluminum Association. This contrasts with the production of plastic bottles that take three times the amount of water that's contained inside them, and only about 30% of plastic bottles are recycled. Currently, around 70% of the aluminum used in AB InBev cans produced in North America is recycled content, the company said.
In the case of AB InBev, the beer giant's global footprint stands to benefit if it can make a more sustainable beer can. While the company is first focusing on North America, AB InBev presumably could get a boost from the environmental halo attached to the product by debuting the can worldwide. The first 1 million cans produced through the partnership with Rio Tinto will be piloted in the United States as part of its fast-growing Michelob Ultra brand.
It's not the first green initiative when it comes to the environment for the brewer. Two years ago, AB InBev said by 2025 all Budweiser beers brewed globally will use 100% renewable energy. Its Anheuser-Busch division also has researched new crop management techniques, developed seeds that require less water to grow and worked to reduce water usage — a key component in making beer — in its facilities. It made headlines by committing to order Tesla's new electric Semi trucks — part of AB InBev's broader effort to reduce its operational carbon footprint by 30%.
If the AB InBev and Rio Tinto partnership is successful, it stands to reason they could license the idea to can manufacturers, soda makers, beer competitors and other uses of aluminum — increasing the scale of the program and its long-term impact on the environment. It could also make aluminum an even more enticing option for packaging.