can collection needs improvement
According to the Aluminum Association, Can Manufacturers
Institute and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the number
of aluminum cans recycled in the United States in 2005 was 51.4
billion. This translates into a recycling rate for beverage containers
of 52 percent, close to a 1 percent increase over the 2004 rate.
Almost 99 billion cans (2.9 billion pounds) were
produced in the United States in 2005. The cans recycled in 2005,
equals 1.5 billion pounds of processed aluminum.
The Aluminum Can Council, a sub-group of the Aluminum
Association and CMI, points outs that the aluminum can is the only
beverage packaging material that more than covers the cost of collection
and re-processing for itself, as well as helping to subsidize the
collection of other recyclable materials.
“This rising rate reflects the high value
of aluminum recycling,” said Patrick M. Franc, chairman of
the Aluminum Association and president of ARCO Aluminum Inc. “There
are tremendous social, economic and environmental benefits to recycling
aluminum cans and the messages are getting through to American consumers.
We encourage everyone to contribute to a sustainable environment
by purchasing and recycling aluminum beverage cans.”
But the Container Recycling Institute (CRI) and
the International Rivers Network (IRN), two non-profit environmental
organizations, have a different take on the increase. They say that
the latest recycling numbers obscure the real environmental costs
of aluminum production.
“The optimistic data released by the Aluminum
Association has a dark side,” said CRI executive director
Pat Franklin. “They failed to mention that we are still trashing
800,000 tons of aluminum beverage cans a year – the equivalent
to the annual output of 3 to 4 major primary aluminum smelters.
“I was surprised to see how slight the increase
was,” she added, “given the record-breaking prices for
scrap aluminum in 2005. The actual number of cans collected last
year was 100 million fewer than the number collected in 2004 (51.5
In response to this point, the Aluminum Association
says that it produced fewer cans in 2005 and that even with a higher
return rate the net was lower.
Franklin noted that of the 11 states with beverage
container deposit laws (bottle bills), they recycled 75 to 95 percent
of all cans sold, while states without bottle bills have an average
can recycling rate of 35 percent.
“This means that there is already a realistic
policy option to combat container waste,” said Franklin, “but
it has not been adopted more widely due to industry lobbying, public
relations and lip service. The beverage industry spends millions
each year to combat deposit legislation, while we continue to trash
5 out of every 10 cans sold. 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.”
Jim Jeffords, the independent senator from Vermont,
has proposed national bottle bills since 1975, but thus far has
been unable to garner the votes required to make it out of the committee
to the Senate floor.
Robin King, the Aluminum Association’s vice
president, public affairs, opposes the notion of bottle bill legislation
as the only viable means to improve recycling rates.
“There is great room for growth if municipalities
that conduct curbside recycling could promote both recycling for
environmental reasons and for the value reason of the commodities
at the consumer level.” King said.
Used aluminum cans have a value of between one
and two cents per can. In most states with bottle bills, the deposit
value is five cents.
Through initiatives such as the as the municipal
Curbside Value Partnership (CVP), Cans for Habitat, and the Recycle
Challenge school drop-off program, the Aluminum Can Council and
other industry associations have worked to stress the environmental
and economic value of recycling aluminum cans.
The CVP, a project of the Aluminum Can Council,
is a national partnership with municipal curbside programs, funded
by organizations that include the Aluminum Association, and Can
Manufacturers Institute, and companies Alcoa, Anheuser-Busch, ARCO,
Ball Corporation, Novelis and REXAM.
“While curbside recycling is available to
only half the United States population, only half of those with
access are actually using it,” said King, “so there
is a huge opportunity to close that gap.
While the aluminum industry does buy scrap aluminum
in 40-ton loads, King noted that it is difficult for small recycling
firms to make a profit, pointing out that as curbside recycling
has increased, the number of buy back centers has diminished –
either closing down or scaling back their operations.
He stressed that this shift could be explained
by the increasing value of industrial recycling, especially of aluminum
products that are more valuable by volume weight compared to aluminum
Concerning deposits to improve recycling rates
for cans, King says that “deposits are not, unfortunately,
a one-size fits all solution,” and that states with bottle
bills, “some of them work really well and others are not working
all that well. In Connecticut and Massachusetts, you are not going
to find an aluminum can recycling rate in those states. There is
a big mystery as to why they are not working well, but we do know
that there are administrative and transparency difficulties within
some deposit models.
Jenny Gitlitz, CRI’s research director,
“The political desire to deal with can recycling
on a nationwide basis has been lacking on the part of industry and
the federal government,” she said. “Venue recycling
and programs like Cash for Cans are good for local public education,
but the volumes recovered are a drop in the bucket. They haven’t
increased the recycling rate.”
Gitlitz said that deposits create an incentive
to bring containers back when the natural market value is inadequate
to encourage that.
“In non-deposit states where the market
value is one or two cents per can, about 35% of cans are recycled,”
she said. “With a nickel deposit, redemption ranges from 70%
(Massachusetts and New York) to 85% (Oregon). In Michigan, a dime
brings back over 90% of cans. This is what we should shoot for.”
She explained that the eleven deposit states are
pulling up the national average, and without them, the United States
can recycling rate would be lower still.
Gitlitz said that local government should not
have to shoulder the burden for recycling programs.
“This is a producer responsibility issue,”
she said. “The businesses that profit from these disposable
products should pay for recycling. They will pass the costs on to
Gitlitz said that tremendous growth in curbside
recycling nationwide (2,711 programs in 1990, 9,709 programs by
2000) coincided with recycling rate declines for cans, glass, and
“Can recycling peaked at 65 percent in 1992,”
she said. “It’s fallen by 20 percentage points since.”
She attributed this apparent paradox to increasing