Aluminum Can Recycling Rate Jumps 7 Points

by | Aug 29, 2012

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The US recycling rate for aluminum beverage containers jumped seven percentage points last year, from 58.1 percent to 65.1 percent, the Aluminum Association, Can Manufacturers Institute and Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries have announced.

That means 61 billion cans were recycled in 2011, and that aluminum cans are recycled at a rate that is more than double that of any other beverage container, the organizations say. The industry has a goal of reaching a 75 percent recycle rate by 2015.

A large part of the increase in the recycling rate was driven by imports of used beverage containers. Imports in 2011 increased by about 25 percent, underscoring the need for improved recycling among US consumers as well as the value of aluminum, the organizations say. Because of a high demand for recycled aluminum cans in the United States, the aluminum industry purchases used cans from Mexico, Canada and other countries.

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 stronger factor in the overall recycling rate in the United States.

Increasing the rate is important for the environment as it takes 95 percent less energy to produce a can from recycled material than from raw materials. This saving results in significant energy, emissions and resource savings, the bodies say.

The amount of energy saved from recycling cans in the US in 2011 is equal to the energy equivalent of over 17 million barrels of crude oil – an amount that can fuel more than 1 million vehicles on the road for 12 months. That is the same amount of energy that it takes to produce the 29 billion plastic water bottles Americans consume each year, the organizations say.

A report released in July by nonprofit As You Sow said that the US should shift the responsibility for post-consumer waste to the companies that produce the packaging in a bid to improve recycling rates. Unfinished Business: The Case for Extended Producer Responsibility for Post-Consumer Packaging said that the US’s overall recycling rate for all beverage containers is about 35 percent, and that more than 40 billion aluminum cans are dumped each year in US landfills.

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