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ATLANTA — PET bottles and metal beverage cans have been competing for market share for years. With ``new age'' drinks like Snapple turning to PET, and PET resin prices at all-time lows, is the beverage can dead?

Hardly, according to Edward Lapekas, senior executive vice president and chief operating officer of American National Can. Although PET bottles are gaining market share, Lapekas thinks cans will remain a viable part of the U.S. packaging mix, even though growth will be flat.

Beverage cans now control 50 percent of the packaged soft drink market and 60 percent of the packaged beer market in the United States, Lapekas told attendees at the Packaging Strategies '97 conference.

PET has claimed 14.4 percent of the U.S. soft drink market from glass and can packaging since 1990.

However, cans still hold more than 90 percent of vending machine volume. Lapekas expects cans to hold a significant position there, but to lose some ground as bottlers begin aggressive PET vending programs.

While PET's recycling actually declined slightly last year, Lapekas pointed out that aluminum is the benchmark for beverage container recycling and will remain so in the future. In 1995, 62.2 percent of cans were recycled; 41 percent of all PET bottles were recycled that year.