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Aluminum Recycling – Reaching New Heights

November 23rd, 2008 · 7 Comments

The Aluminum Association announced last week a new initiative aimed at increasing aluminum recycling (beverage can recycling, in particular) in the US.

In a statement released last Tuesday, November 18th, the group said it is targeting a 75% recycling rate for used beverage containers by 2015.

At present, it’s estimated that the industry recovers and recycles 54% of aluminum containers produced here in the US. Aluminum recycling has one of the highest recovery rates (compared to cell phone recycling, for example, which only has a dismal 9.4% recycling rate). However, the amount of 46% un-recycled beverage cans translates to 50 billion aluminum cans discarded every year and possibly ending up in our landfills.

Read the press statement from the Aluminum Association here.

Fifty billion aluminum cans in our landfills is a staggering number, by any standard. The entire US commercial air fleet can be rebuilt every three months, with this amount of wasted metal. (See Recycling Facts). Not that those planes need to be rebuilt four times every year, the point is without aluminum recycling, there is just so much resources we, as consumers, are throwing away.

Watch: Aluminum Recycling

Appalling is the word that comes to mind when we start viewing this profligate wastefulness in the backdrop of the current financial turbulence the nation faces and the tangible economic benefits aluminum recycling entails. An aluminum can dumped on a landfill will still be the same can 500 years from now. It’s one of the perfect models for recycling – aluminum can be recycled repeatedly without any change in the quality of the metal. It also has one of the fastest turn-around time – recycled aluminum can be introduced back into the production line in as short as 2 weeks and be back in your local store’s shelf in 60 days.

According to the Aluminum Association’s press statement, a 75% aluminum recycling rate would:

  • Result in an energy savings of 139.7 million MBTUs in avoided energy.
  • Result in the avoidance of nearly 9 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, which is equivalent to removing more than 1.6 million cars from the road over a year.

Aluminum recycling constitutes what might be considered as a strategic economic move. While the immediate effects of this on the economy (from reduction of  costs related to production of beverages, landfill maintenance, mining and shipping of raw material) is huge, the long-term economic benefits are equally significant. Precisely because of the corrosion-resistant trait of aluminum, it’s only logical to stockpile on this metal while energy costs are still relatively low.

One kilogram of recycled aluminum  prevents the mining of five kilograms of bauxite – the common raw material for aluminum production. This metal is extracted in open cast pits and it takes approximately 4-5 metric tons of bauxite to produce 2 tons of aluminum. While some industry sources maintain that bauxite mining itself poses low impact on the environment (particularly on rain forests), aluminum recycling, as noted in the Aluminum Association quote above, directly benefits the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Only 5% of carbon dioxide is produced in the aluminum recycling process compared to what is emitted during the production of brand new aluminum. This percentage actually dwindles once you factor in emissions from the global transport of raw materials.

Given the economic and environmental benefits of a high aluminum recycling rate, this initiative by the Aluminum Association is laudable and deserves our support. They plan to work with other institutions and programs (notably, the Curbside Value Partnership program) to achieve this objective. According to Pat Frank, former chair person of the Aluminum Association,

Aluminum is infinitely recyclable and the more aluminum that consumers recycle, the better it is for everyone. Educating the consumer about the economic and environmental benefits of aluminum can recycling is key to getting them to recycle more.

Don’t throw away that soda can.

What can we do to help? After the US Elections, there has been a significant rise in the cooperative spirit among many Americans. Many of us stepped out a bit from apathy and saw that we’re all in this together. Our problems can’t be solved by government alone, or by political parties and organizations working to save the environment or prevent nationwide financial disaster. Every one must pitch in.

The simple act of not throwing away a soda or milk can, and saving that for aluminum recycling definitely has a great effect on our economy and the environment. It’s not as high-profile or glamorous as what those folks from Greenpeace are doing blocking whaling ships with puny speedboats. But, who the heck wants to block huge ships with tiny speed boats? 🙂 I’d go recycle, anytime.

Tags: Cell phone features · Recycling

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Edmond Chiropractic // Nov 24, 2008 at 8:07 am

    I am suprised there are that many cans used in a year! This is a huge motivation to recycle.

  • 2 Fia // Nov 27, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Disappointing to read that 50 billion cans are wasted every year. I wish more people would think before they discard cans.

    What is the recycling rate where cash is rewarded for recycling cans? Something needs to be done to change this

  • 3 Dave // Dec 9, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    I am wondering although the Mobius Loop with X% in the center is used mostly for cardboard could it also be used for Aluminum, specifically aluminum beverage cans?

    Thanks… any/everyone.

  • 4 jason // Dec 28, 2008 at 12:21 am

    The more the better when it comes to recycling. I can’t believe the effects with cans and aluminum.

  • 5 Dave // Feb 9, 2009 at 5:36 am

    This is a huge motivation to recycle.I am surprised there are that many cans used in a year! If i collect enoguh cans will they make me an airplane 😀 kidding, great post!

  • 6 Moab Mountain Biking // Feb 24, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    We do numerous mountain biking trips in the Moab, Utah area as well as internationally.

    We use a lot of aluminum cans on our trips, and we would almost feel ‘criminal’ if we didn’t recycle them.

    At the end of the day, we feel pretty good about our recycling efforts, and we hope that we inspire our clients to recycle too..

    Thanks for the great blog post.

  • 7 Online Shopping // Mar 30, 2009 at 2:04 am

    It appears to me that many of the raw material used are actually non biodegradable items.I wonder if it’s possible to substitute it with other materials or able to regenerate it for other uses.