American Recycler News, Inc.


Aluminum can recycling rate reaches 65.1 percent

The U.S. recycling rate for aluminum beverage containers jumped 7 percentage points, from 58.1 percent to 65.1 percent for 2011, the Aluminum Association, Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) and Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) announced. That means 61 billion cans were recycled in 2011, a milestone that marks solid progress toward the industry’s goal of a 75 percent recycling rate. The higher recycling rate also secures the aluminum can’s position as the most recycled beverage container. Aluminum cans are recycled at a rate that is more than double that of any other beverage container.

“Cans are an obvious green packaging choice because it takes 95 percent less energy to produce a can from recycled material, resulting in significant energy, emissions and resource savings. The amount of energy saved just from recycling cans in 2011 is equal to the energy equivalent of over 17 million barrels of crude oil. That’s the amount of oil needed to fuel more than 1 million vehicles on the road for 12 months. Interestingly, that same amount of energy equivalency that recycling cans saved (17 million barrels of crude oil), is also what it takes to produce the 29 billion plastic water bottles Americans consume each year,” said the Association’s Can Committee chair, Allison Buchanan of Alcoa.

“What’s more, these savings can be realized over and over again due to the infinite recyclability inherent in aluminum cans. That means the cans we recycle after our upcoming Labor Day barbecues will be back on the store shelf as new cans by Halloween; not just this year, but for many years to come.”

This can-to-can closed loop process happens in as little as 60 days. In fact, aluminum cans not only have the highest recycling rate of all beverage packages, they also have by far the greatest amount of total recycled content – an industry average of 68 percent.

A large part of the increase in the recycling rate was driven by imports of used beverage containers; imports in 2011 increased approximately 25 percent, underscoring the need for improved recycling among U.S. consumers as well as the value of aluminum. Because of a high demand for recycled aluminum cans in the United States, the aluminum industry purchases UBCs from Mexico, Canada and other countries as many cans get shipped to those countries. Used cans have value, the highest of any material in the recycling stream, and are shipped into the United States for melting and conversion into new cans. The Aluminum Association has included imported cans in its recycling rate since it began reporting in 1972. In the last several years, the steady increase in imports has become a more impactful factor to the overall recycling rate in the United States.