In recent years, many eco-conscious consumers have turned away from single-use plastic. This has led many beverage companies to explore other environmentally-friendly solutions to reduce plastic pollution. Today, many believe that aluminum cans are more sustainable than plastic water bottles. But the question is, is canned water greener than bottled water?
Companies like Ever & Ever offer water in aluminum cans. The brand refers to aluminum as an “everlasting metal” that poses no real threat to our environment. RAIN is another canned water company that uses only natural spring water sources that offer electrolytes and minerals.
Read on as we look into how manufacturers make aluminum cans and find out if canned water is truly more sustainable than plastic bottled water.
How do manufacturers make aluminum cans?
So, let’s talk about the process of making aluminum. Aluminum doesn’t exist in a pure form. First, manufacturers mine bauxite in countries like Australia, China, Jamaica and Malaysia. Sadly, mining bauxite destroys forests and agricultural land.
After mining, manufacturers then cook the bauxite in chemicals, precisely caustic soda, and extract the alumina hydrate, leaving behind a toxic “red mud.”
Next, manufacturers cook the alumina hydrate at a high temperature to drive out the water, obtaining aluminum oxide, which they use to make aluminum.
It takes about four to five tonnes of bauxite to make alumina and an average of two tonnes of alumina to produce a tonne of aluminum.
The process of turning alumina into new aluminum consumes a lot of energy. This is why it is shipped to Canada, the fourth-largest aluminum producer, where hydro-power is clean and cheap.
Next, manufacturers cut the aluminum into sheets they can shape into various products, including aluminum cans. They then clean and spray the cans with coatings. After this, the cans are ready to be sold commercially.
Are aluminum canned water bottles greener than plastic water bottles?
Aluminum cans are considered more sustainable than plastic bottles because the process of recycling and reusing them is relatively easy. However, while you may be considering aluminum cans for your drinking water, you think they could be cleaner.
The entire process of creating aluminum is toxic to our planet, from destroying agricultural lands to using toxic chemical materials and their release.
The “Red Mud” is a harmful byproduct of making alumina from bauxite1. It can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems. It has also polluted drinking water and caused flooding in countries like Hungary.
In addition, turning aluminum scrap into new cans is energy-intensive. It produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that affect our environment. Sadly, choosing canned water over plastic bottled water doesn’t reduce your carbon footprint.
Related read: Environmental impact of plastic water bottles.
Aluminum is not infinitely recyclable.
While the “infinitely recyclable aluminum” can be recycled and reused, it is not exactly good enough. Most canned water bottles aren’t as versatile as other types of scraps. Companies specializing in making airplanes or car parts won’t use recycled aluminum cans.
So, the recycling rate has drastically reduced compared to aluminum production. In California, United States, the recycling rate for cans dropped by 20% from 2016 to 2021. With the slow recycling rate of cans compared to market demand, these cans end up in our landfills and oceans, just like single-use plastic.
After drinking water from a can, you typically won’t be able to reseal or refill it. So, like a plastic bottle, canned water contributes to environmental disasters.
The issue of the BPA liner.
BPA (bisphenol A) is a chemical manufacturers use to keep food and beverage packaging durable. Sadly, not all cans are BPA-free; exposure to this chemical can cause several health problems.
Bisphenol A can easily permeate through the packaging into the beverage or food. A Center for Environmental Health report2 showed that almost 40% of cans were using this chemical.
However, many canned water companies now use alternatives like acrylic resins and polyvinyl chloride-based resins (PVC) that are also toxic to human health.
So, aluminum canned water is just as toxic as plastic bottles containing harmful chemicals that can leach into your drinking water.
The taste of aluminum in drinking water.
Consumers prefer to drink water free of chemicals and an unfavorable taste. Sadly, with canned water, small amounts of metal can dissolve in your water, reducing its quality and giving it an unpleasant metallic taste.
With aluminum canned water companies switching to other Bisphenol A alternatives, it is unclear if these linings break down faster, changing the taste of the water.
Which packaged water is best for the environment?
Plastic bottles and aluminum bottles are easy to carry around. However, they both have a terrible impact on our world. A plastic bottle can take thousands of years to decompose, polluting the ocean and landfill.
Aluminum cans are not biodegradable and have a slow recycling rate, which may be worse for the environment. Both plastic bottles and aluminum cans also contain chemicals that can affect human health.
Thankfully, you can switch to sustainable alternatives to plastic and aluminum bottles. Here are some sustainable water packaging you can switch to:
Glass Water Bottle
You can fill your glass bottle with clean water while at home or traveling. Unlike plastic or aluminum, a glass bottle won't deteriorate with repeated use. You can easily store some drinking water for longer periods. Glass containers preserve temperature and keep cold water cold for a long time.
Glass containers are also free of flavor or chemical contamination, which allows you to enjoy pure water. The best part is that you can reuse them as many times as possible, which makes them more sustainable than aluminum cans.
You can find several stylish and durable glass bottles on the market. For example, Briefons Glass Bottles are durable, chemical-free, and odor-free. They also come with stainless steel waterproof caps to keep your water bottle leakproof no matter where you are.
Another eco-friendly alternative to plastic and aluminum bottles is carton boxes (i.e., water that comes in carton boxes). The carton is a cardboard box that keeps your water fresh. The cardboard box is also recyclable, which is good news for our world.
According to a study by Boxed Water Is Better, boxed water has 43% less fossil fuel use, 36% lower carbon footprint, and 95% lower impact on the ozone layer compared to a single-use plastic water bottle. Boxes Water is Better is a brand that offers purified water in cardboard boxes made of FSC-certified paper.
Wrapping Up: Is Canned Water Greener Than Bottled Water?
Every day, we see the effects of plastics and aluminum on our planet. Canned water bottles and plastic bottles are not biodegradable. They can remain for many years in landfills, contributing to environmental waste.
Not only are they both detrimental to our environment, but also to our health. Other eco-friendly and healthier options you can choose from include glass bottles and boxed water.
Päivärinta-Antikainen, S., Huovinen, M., Ojala, S., Matějová, L., Keiski, R. L., & Vähäkangas, K. (2023). Leaching of Metals From Red Mud and Toxicity in Human Cells in Vitro. Chemosphere.
Cox, C., (2017) Kicking the Can? Major retailers still selling canned food with BPA. Center for Environmental Health.