Aluminum Cans Face An Uncertain Future [Updated]

Update, August 10, 2020: Since the U.S. is already dealing with an aluminum can shortage as more people stock up on canned beverages for home drinking (rather than draft beer at bars, say), manufacturers are scrambling to ramp up production and stay ahead of rising demand. And yet, President Trump has, according to Reuters, reinstated a 10% tariff on aluminum products entering the country from Canada as part of his "America First" trade agenda, which could make it harder for beverage companies to stock enough cans.

The reinstatement of this tariff was "absolutely necessary to defend our aluminum industry," Trump said in a speech last week in Ohio. And while U.S. aluminum companies are in favor of the tariff, Reuters notes that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has deemed this move "a step in the wrong direction" that will lead to higher costs both for companies and consumers.

So what will happen to our precious pop-tops? Beer writer Ben Keene has some guesses:

Original post, July 13, 2020: Do you like aluminum cans? Of course you do. Aluminum cans can be filled with so many tasty liquids, like soda, beer, or crab juice. But you know who hates cans? Coronavirus.

An anonymous resident of San Diego, California contacted the News 8 team at CBS-affiliate KFMB, wondering why they could no longer find their favorite soda; an subsequent investigation by their intrepid reporters found that the story was much, much bigger than just a single brand of soda. The entire damn aluminum can industry is in crisis, which means that in a few short weeks when everyone ends up back in full quarantine, there could very well be a nationwide shortage of canned craft beer.

News 8 spoke with Sean Harris, the owner of Serpentine Cider, who verified the shortage, saying that sales of canned cider have increased by roughly 700% since quarantine began. He's been getting calls from other local breweries who are seeking surplus cans, as some of them have completely run out. He was able to dip into the cidery's inventory help out a few of his competitors with their can troubles, but now he's concerned Serpentine might be in trouble as the cans they use are on backorder.

"[This is a] potentially a huge problem because if we don't have cans to sell, that's 70% of our sales, so this is something that could potentially be a really big problem," he told News 8.

A spokesperson with the Brewers Association explained to News 8 that prior to the coronavirus outbreak, there had already been an increase in can demand thanks to their infinite recyclability.

"Other beverage industries are moving away from other packaging, particularly plastic, creating additional demand," they said. All indications are that the aluminum can manufacturers are producing at or near capacity."

News 8 also spoke with a representative from Ball—the can-manufacturing juggernaut behind all your favorite mason jars and mason jar accessories— who also confirmed the shortage, emphasizing the company is doing its best to keep up with America's insatiable desire for more cans.

"We are aggressively expanding our U.S. can manufacturing production by installing two new lines in existing facilities and building two state of the art plants," said the representative.

So when will we have our cans back? No one knows. Is it time to start freaking out and hoarding all the cans? Yes. Yes it is.