More Aluminum Cans Trashed Last Year Than Recycled
Container and Packaging Recycling UPDATE Summer/Fall 2003
Last year, 51.6 billion used aluminum beverage cans (UBCs) were landfilled or littered (140 million every day), and the recycling rate for cans sunk to its lowest point since 1980. In April, the Aluminum Association, a Washington-based industry trade group, announced that the year 2002 UBC recycling rate was 53.4%. However, when the data are adjusted for the 5.3 billion imported scrap cans that were not originally sold in the United States, the actual domestic UBC recycling rate was 48.4%--lower than the 2001 rate of 49.2%.
Whether one adheres to the Aluminum Association's method or that of the Container Recycling Institute (CRI) and the U.S. EPA, there is no disputing that the UBC recycling rate has declined for five years running. According to CRI research director Jenny Gitlitz, 39% more aluminum is being tossed out than a decade ago. "We wasted 763,000 tons of cans last year," Gitlitz said, "up from 550,000 tons wasted in 1992. Replacing these wasted cans with new cans made from virgin materials will squander the energy equivalent of 16.2 million barrels of crude oil, and will produce over 3 million tons of greenhouse gasses."
U.S. Aluminum Can Recycling Rate vs. Access to Curbside Programs
B= 2001: 49.2%
C=1990: 2,711 curbsides 37 million people served (15% of US population)
D=2001: 9,709 curbsides 140 million people served (50% of US population)
Sources: Aluminum Assoc., U.S.EPA Office of Solid Waste, American Plastics Council, Glass Packaging Institute, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, BioCycle.
UBC Recycling and Wasting, 1972-2002
Source: Data derived from the Aluminum Association and the U.S. Dept of Commerce.
Container Recycling Institute, 2003
"The irony is that while Americans are trashing almost three quarters of a million tons of cans a year," Gitlitz said, "the major aluminum companies are forging ahead with plans to build new aluminum smelters-and hydroelectric dams for power-in environmentally-sensitive areas including Brazil, Iceland, Malaysia and Mozambique."
According to Gitlitz, the dam in Iceland will supply Alcoa's new 322,000-ton smelter, and will submerge 22 square miles of tundra, including habitat for reindeer and the pink-footed goose, up to 60 waterfalls, and what has been called the Icelandic equivalent of the Grand Canyon.
CRI executive director Pat Franklin said, "The aluminum industry's efforts to reverse the declining recycling rate have failed. A tripling in curbside programs in the last decade has done nothing to increase recovery of aluminum cans, due to the away-from-home consumption trend. Without more beverage container deposit laws that provide a financial incentive to recycle, and without increasing the deposit value in existing deposit states, aluminum can recycling rates will continue to decline."
Container and Packaging Recycling UPDATE is a publication of the Container Recycling Institute, 1911 N Fort Myers Dr. Suite 702, Arlington VA 22209-1603 Tel: 703.276.9800, fax: 703.276.9587, www.container-recycling.org and www.bottlebill.org