Don’t throw that can away! Aluminum can recycling is an easy way to make a huge impact on the environment.
The aluminum can is like the super hero of recyclable materials. It is a sustainable metal that can be recycled over and over again without losing its integrity. The process is so quick and easy that the soda can you pitched in your green curbside bin yesterday could end up back on the grocery store shelf within two months.
It takes nearly five hundred years for an aluminum can to decompose in a landfill, and yet Americans only recycle about half of the 80 BILLION cans they go through every year. With the aluminum industry eager to pay for the cans, and the availability of recycling programs, it is hard to imagine why anyone would toss their can in the trash- or worse, on the side of the road.
Is Aluminum Really Eco-Friendly?
The industry touts its aluminum containers as eco-friendly. But recycle-ability is only an asset if people are recycling.
According to an International River Networks, Container Recycling Institute (CRI) press release, the rate of aluminum can recycling is only rising at a modest 1% annually. This means that nearly half the 800 billion cans used in the U.S. are trashed and replaced by cans made from virgin materials. This waste squanders about 23 billion kilowatt-hours globally each year.
Unlike the low-energy process of creating new cans from old, the manufacturing of cans from virgin materials is hazardous to the planet. CRI researcher Jennifer Gitlitz points out that the aluminum industry comprises 3% of the world’s total energy use, contributing about 95 million tons per year of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.
Deposit Laws: An Important Part of the Solution
There are eleven states with can-deposit laws: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. Any glass, plastic, or aluminum soda or beer bottles sold within these states must be charged a deposit at the time of purchase (5 cents, 10 cents in MI). When the can is returned for recycling, the consumer gets their money back.
Not surprisingly, these states recycle 75%-95% of all cans and bottles sold. The other states only recycle 35%.
Unfortunately, lobbyists for the beverage industry have been able to keep deposit laws off the books for the other thirty-nine states.
“The beverage industry spends millions each year to combat deposit legislation, while we continue to trash 5 out of every 10 cans sold,” says CRI director Pat Franklin. “If container and beverage producers won’t accept responsibility for managing their can waste, Americans need to ask their state legislators to do the job.”
What Can One Person Do?
The passing of deposit laws in all fifty states would make an incredible impact on nationwide aluminum recycling. But there are smaller steps you can take while you wait for your petition to reach your state legislator:
- RECYCLE at the curb through your city’s public pick-up program, or at a local drop-off station.
- GREEN THE SCHOOL: Organize a green team focused on getting cardboard recycling bins in the schools. Set up a collection and drop-off schedule. Use the money for school improvements, field trips, or extra programs.
- ORGANIZE A CAN DRIVE: Local schools, churches, athletic teams, clubs, and other non-profit organizations can raise money by collecting cans and returning them for recycling. If your state does not have deposits, local recycling centers will pay by the pound.
- SEIZE THE TRASH: Take a group to the local beach, park, playground or other public space with the intent to clean it up. Have one set of bags for trash, one for glass bottles, and another for aluminum cans. Make sure you wear gloves and stay away from needles, broken glass, or other potentially hazardous waste. Return the aluminum at a recycling center. Use the money to have a fun celebration treat, or donate to a local charity.