The beverage sector has long favored aluminum cans for being lighter, stronger and more easily recyclable than the alternatives, despite being up to three times more expensive than steel and twice more than PET.
But the economics of the sector are changing, and soda producers such as Coca Cola are increasingly packaging their beverages in PET bottles.
The low carbon aluminum sales pitch is less noticed, due to developments of recyclable PET bottles and improved PET recycling chain. Moreover, capital investment for PET bottles are modest than aluminum cans.
Related blog post — Japan aluminum’s tipple of choice: US bourbon in a can
Most beverage manufacturers are able to make PET bottles in-house, whereas aluminum cans are outsourced. PET allows more flexible bottle shapes and this is helpful as most beverages have short life cycles.
As a result, in Japan, aluminum cans of Coca Cola are becoming highly collectible. Collectors appreciate them as affordable American art, or re-use them for crafts.
Will beer cans be next?
Japanese beer drinkers say they are loyal to aluminum because the beer from such cans tastes better than beer from steel, paper or PET containers.
But when aluminum cans were introduced in the 1960s, consumers at the time claimed beer in heavy glass bottles tasted better than in cans.
One beer lover told me he converted to aluminum only after his favorite beer became available only in cans; the contents mattered more than the container, he reasoned.
Now, there are both beer and soda lovers who opt to collect rather than recycle old aluminum cans.
Indeed, some vintage can collectors have been known to pay $50-$100 for a single used beverage can.
Design and nostalgia appear to be the prime motivators of collectors, particularly soda cans that have fewer design restrictions, as alcohol packaging is typically more highly regulated to ensure it does not feature images that appeal to children.
I recently sought out two Japanese can collectors.
One, a musician, claims to be the world’s largest can collector with 20,000 cans, while the other said his life work was preserving the cultural heritage of the 1980s.
I wanted to ask them if they would find the same interest in PET bottles without the metallic shine and luster, but did not have the chance.
Both declined to be identified or interviewed, saying they were already pursued day and night by other collectors seeking to buy their cans and did not want the publicity.
However one, a successful business owner, allowed me to view his baseball beer can and Japanese Ultraman cartoon soda can collections in the company of an employee, who said the collection was a challenge to maintain as the cans dented so easily.
Still, aluminum could well find itself competing with PET for the attention of collectors in years to come: Dydo Drinco last year released a Pokemon soda in PET that appealed to a new generation of collectors.
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