Stakeholder Spotlight: Scott Breen

March 18, 2021 | BIER

Meet Scott Breen
Name: Scott Breen, Sustainability and Circular Economy Expert | Environmental Lawyer | Podcaster | Project Manager | Policy Analyst

Company: Can Manufacturers Institute

Connect with Scott on LinkedIn and Twitter

Welcome to our series aimed at spotlighting the individual leaders within BIER member companies and stakeholder organizations. Learn how these practitioners and their companies are addressing pressing challenges around water, energy, agriculture, climate change, and what inspires each of them to advance environmental sustainability in the beverage sector and collectively, overall.

Briefly describe your role and responsibilities and how long you have worked with your organization.

I am Vice President of Sustainability at the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI), which represents U.S. metal can manufacturers and their suppliers. My responsibilities fall into three main areas:

  • Increase the recycling rate for all metal beverage cans: The aluminum beverage can is the most recycled drinks package in the United States and the world. The aluminum beverage can manufacturers and their suppliers want to build on this strength to achieve new heights.
  • Promote the metal can as the most sustainable, circular package: The aluminum beverage can has many sustainability advantages including
  • that metal recycles forever
  • it is one of the most valuable recyclable commodities and without it most material recovery facilities (MRFs) that sort single stream recyclables would not be able to operate
  • the vast majority of aluminum beverage cans are often recycled into new cans
  • the average aluminum beverage can contains 73 percent recycled content.

However, the average person does not understand these sustainability advantages. They believe all recyclables that are accepted in their local recycling program have the same environmental and economic impact when recycled. CMI members believe higher recycling rates would result if more people understood that aluminum is valuable to recyclers and can manufacturers, and connected the impact of recycling cans to their values to protect the environment, conserve resources for their children, etc.

  • Support the can industry’s legislative and regulatory efforts: I enjoy using my masters of public affairs and law degree to support the Government Relations and Technical and Regulatory Affairs leads at CMI. The can industry wants to ensure recycling policies are efficient and effective as well as recognize the can’s sustainability advantages and the investments made to establish the aluminum beverage can’s existing circular system that recycles nearly five million cans every hour in the United States.

How has the organization’s sustainability initiatives evolved over the years and what are your priorities for 2021?

The metal can has long been a core recyclable and the industry has continuously worked to increase metal can recycling rates. Bill Coors, former Chairman of what is today Molson Coors Beverage Company, designed the aluminum beverage can in the 1950s to be easily recycled. Since the aluminum beverage can industry began tracking the recycling of aluminum cans in 1972, it has recycled nearly two trillion aluminum beverage cans. The Aluminum Association (AA), which represents aluminum suppliers, and CMI recently reaffirmed their commitment to increasing aluminum beverage can recycling rates in “Every Can Counts: An Aluminum Beverage Can Recycling Manifesto.”

Certainly, one area where the industry has evolved over the years is on deposit systems. In the past, CMI was against deposit systems. Then the position was for the industry to be in favor of deposits where they currently exist. Now, CMI has a pragmatic, solutions-oriented approach to deposits. In March 2020, CMI and AA published an opinion editorial (op–ed) detailing the industry’s deposit system best practice principles. The op-ed makes clear that deposit systems are an important source of used beverage cans that the can industry needs to make new cans. The recycling rate for aluminum beverage cans in the 10 deposit states is in the high 70’s, while in the 40 non-deposit states it is in the mid 30’s. Further, 40 percent of the more than 42 billion aluminum beverage cans that are recycled each year in the United States come from these 10 deposit states. The can industry is now eager to work with states interested in new deposit systems and has thought leadership to share with them on how to establish an efficient, effective deposit system.

CMI has several priorities for 2021 including:

  • Engage in extended producer responsibility and deposit system policy discussions and share the industry’s best practice principles to ensure any recycling policy that is passed is fair, effective, and efficient.
  • Execute a pilot grant program funded by the can manufacturers Ardagh Group and Crown Holdings that will focus on new equipment and processes in MRFs to capture aluminum beverage cans that are currently missorted, and then find ways to build off this pilot program so additional aluminum can capture equipment is installed in MRFs.
  • Provide an online communications toolkit with the industry’s best talking points and graphics to make it easier for brands, local recyclers, and other stakeholders to communicate to consumers about the importance of aluminum beverage can recycling.
  • Develop an online tool that makes it easy for people in non-deposit states to find local scrap yards to bring aluminum beverage cans that they can sell for additional revenue or for a charity.
  • Design an impact calculator where people can see across many different metrics the impact of recycling a single or many aluminum beverage cans.
  • Write and publish articles targeting key stakeholders to explain the benefits of aluminum beverage cans, such as the January 2021 GreenBiz article, “Moving Beyond 100% Recyclable Goals,” which explains why corporate sustainability packaging goals should consider if their packaging works in today’s recycling system and will actually be recycled.

What are your impressions of BIER and what do you feel has been the group’s impact on private sector environmental sustainability?

I’m impressed that BIER has so many of the key players in the beverage industry working together to measure and improve environmental performance. BIER’s work provides important information to the industry and other key stakeholders. For example, on the side, I am the creator and co-host of the podcast ”Sustainability Defined,” and we used BIER’s information on the carbon footprint of the spirits industry in our episode on sustainability and spirits released in December 2020. It was the only information that we could find focused specifically on the carbon footprint of the spirits industry. We also cited to BIER’s “2018 Water Energy and Emissions Efficiency Trends and Observation Report” to give listeners a sense of the energy and water used and improvement in performance over time at distilleries.

 What is one specific area (e.g., topic, work product, etc…) where BIER got your attention and why?

I was impressed with the latest version of the “Beverage Industry Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Sector Guidance” to better understand, measure, and report on the GHG emissions associated with the beverage industry. Certainly, many of the individual members were already measuring their GHG emissions, but it’s so important to collaborate on how to best measure so that there is consistency of information for investors, third-party organizations, consumers, etc. The beverage industry recognized this need for standardization a while ago considering the 2019 version was the fourth version. CMI is planning to support BIER this year with their updated version of the Sector Guidance to be published late in 2021. Aluminum beverage can manufacturers are similarly committed to collaboration to improve climate impacts. All the leading aluminum beverage can manufacturers were listed on CDP’s Supplier Engagement Rating Leaderboard, which recognized those that best engage their suppliers on climate change.

Share a recent accomplishment of your organization’s sustainability initiatives/achievements you are most proud of and why.

CMI and its members, Ardagh Group and Crown Holdings, are proud of the recently announced grant program that seeks to address the missortation of aluminum beverage cans at material recovery facilities (MRF) that sort single stream residential recyclables. CMI research last year showed that aluminum beverage cans are one of the most valuable recyclable commodities and without the revenue from used beverage cans (UBC), most MRFs would not be able to operate. And yet, that same research found that up to one in four UBCs are missorted at a typical MRF. The missortation occurs for a variety of reasons including that the cans are crushed flat such that they are so thin that they end up sorted with the paper. There are ways to capture these missorted cans including installing an additional eddy current and/or a robot. This equipment can often pay for itself in a short period of time with the revenue from the additional cans captured. Very few of the 350 residential MRFs across the United States have installed this additional can capture equipment. The aluminum can industry wanted to act on this research and not wait for more MRFs to make the investment in can capture equipment. So, the aluminum beverage can manufacturers mentioned above funded a grant program via CMI and in partnership with The Recycling Partnership to fund infrastructure and processes to capture missorted cans at MRFs. A request for proposals was released in January 2021, the first grantee will be announced in the first quarter of this year, the remaining grantees will be announced in the second quarter of 2021, and initial impact results are expected by the end of the year. The hope is this grant program creates additional case studies that spur more MRFs to make the wise investment in additional can capture equipment.

If you had one superpower that could be used to radically accelerate and scale sustainable best practices, which one would it be and how would you use it?

I would love to have the ability to track all individual packaging as they flow through the waste and recycling system. I believe if people saw how some of their packaging was recycled into the same highly recyclable package while others went straight to landfill, that would encourage more sustainable purchasing and appropriate recycling behavior. I have not been able to find a way to track individual beverage cans to prove to people that their cans are recycled and to show that cans are highly valued in the recycling system and the vast majority of the time recycled cans become new cans. Last year, CMI conducted research that included a material flow analysis of aluminum beverage cans, glass bottles, and PET plastic bottles flowing through the U.S. waste and recycling system. This is industry-wide rather than the individual container-level I want with my superpower, but it’s still useful. I also wrote an article in GreenBiz,Moving Beyond 100% Recyclable” (January 2021), where I encourage companies to go beyond technically recyclable in their packaging goals and think about how to have goals that look at how their packaging is actually flowing in the recycling system and what the material becomes after it is recycled. I suggest companies try to find ways to better track their packaging. Hopefully, my superpower becomes more of a reality, even if it’s not as granular as an individual container.

BIER Publications referenced in this interview
Research on the Carbon Footprint of Spirits
Beverage Industry Continues to Drive Improvement in Water, Energy, and Emissions Efficiency – 2018 Benchmarking Study Trends & Observations
Beverage Industry Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Sector Guidance


The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector.
By BIER [crp]

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) is a technical coalition of leading global beverage companies working together to advance environmental sustainability within the beverage sector. Formed in 2006, BIER is a common voice across the beverage sector, speaking to influence global standards on environmental sustainability aspects most relevant to the sector, affect change both up and down the supply chain and share best practices that raise the bar for environmental performance of the industry. By doing so, BIER is able to monitor data and trends, engage with key stakeholders, develop best practices, and guide a course of action for the future.

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