Japan, along with Brazil, has been a global leader in terms of used beverage can (UBC) recycling rates for some years.

However, the reasons for Japan’s success are somewhat different to Brazil’s.

In 2012, Japan recycled or reused 18 billion cans, totalling almost 285,000 tonnes of aluminium, of a total 19.12 billion consumed (almost 300,000 tonnes), an end-of-life recycling rate of 94.7%. The energy saved through this recycling effort was over 6 billion kWh, enough to supply 52 million Japanese households with electricity for 13 days.

There are five key factors that drive the success of the Japanese can recycling system:

  1. Almost perfect “separate collection” by the country’s 1,850 municipalities. Approximately 50% of used cans are collected via municipality offices, which employ separate bins for different materials – aluminium cans and bottle tops, glass bottles, PET bottles and paper are all collected separately, with the separation carried out by the consumer of the product. In this way, the scrap stream is kept “clean” and there is less need for processing of mixed scrap.

  2. A nationwide recycling network made up of 800 recyclers who buy the used scrap and community groups that collect and sell the scrap, including voluntary groups, supermarkets and shopping centres and company CSR activities.

  3. Education at primary school level on the environmental (and socio-economic) benefits of recycling. As well as a special curriculum on environmental education, schoolchildren raise money to buy books and equipment through the collection and sale of UBCs.

  4. Strong support of community groups by the Aluminium Can Recycling Association (ACRA), which provides advice and information on recycling.

  5. An active and established recycling market that commands favourable prices for UBCs and continues to develop applications for recycled aluminium, including further use in cans, as automobile parts or as de-oxidising agent in steel production.