Aluminum is infinitely recyclable, and is one of the few materials used in consumer products that can be economically recycled without local, regional, or national subsidies. Aluminum recycling benefits the environment, and because of aluminum’s intrinsic value, it also benefits the recycler. That is why it is important that aluminum recycling rates increase to help our environment. Our position is that no aluminum should ever see a landfill; it wastes energy and it wastes natural resources.
The aluminum can recycling rate in 2011 was 65% in the United States - up seven percentage points from 2010. About half of this increase was due to an increase in the number of aluminum cans imported by the U.S. can sheet industry due to insufficient domestic recycling rates. The U.S. recycling rate continues to lag far behind many other countries, with about one billion pounds of recyclable aluminum, or approximately 32 billion aluminum cans, ending up in landfills. Because recycling saves 95% of the energy it takes to make aluminum from raw ore, these wasted cans represent the electricity equivalent of three average-size coal-fired power plants. That’s enough energy to power 1.5 million average U.S. homes for one year, and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 4.3 million metric tons. Recycling these cans would keep $300 million in the U.S. and would create thousands of jobs.
Voluntary Action - Alcoa is dedicated to raising the Used Beverage Can (UBC) recycling rate in North America to 75% by 2015 (See 2008 Announcement). We have invested $24 million to double our can recycling capacity at our plant near Knoxville, TN. Alcoa and Alcoa Foundation have donated tens of thousands of recycling bins to schools, organizations and individuals across the country. We actively support voluntary programs like the Curbside Value Partnership that provide funding for infrastructure and consumer education. Our recently announced investment in our Action to Accelerate Recycling initiative highlights Alcoa’s leadership in driving collaborative voluntary action. These investments are part of our role as a responsible steward. Yet industry alone cannot recover the more than 32 billion aluminum cans that are not being recycled. More must be done.
Enabling Policies - We believe public policy makers play a role in developing and deploying strategies at multiple levels to increase recycling, and to ensure environmental costs associated with packaging are properly understood. Alcoa supports a range of options to increase the recycling rate for aluminum cans:
- Developing challenging and firm waste diversion targets at the state level to recognize the public’s responsibility to divert reusable natural resources from the waste stream.
- Mandatory recycling, with incentives to increase diversion and meet recycling targets. This could include curbside recycling for single family residences, mandatory recycling infrastructure for multi-family dwellings, and away-from-home collection of recyclables.
- Disposal bans on aluminum cans as a means to highlight the value of recovering energy-rich packages.
- Shared responsibility - marrying producer responsibility with “generator” responsibility achieved through a use-based, “Pay as You Throw” system to incent higher participation rates in recycling. Solid waste is often the only utility with no penalties or additional costs for excessive waste. Pay as you throw concepts could be widely supported by industry and the public sector.
- Supporting smart, reasonable, and fair incentives, including equitable container deposit legislation.
The U.S. has been recycling aluminum cans since their invention. Unfortunately, we dramatically lag the recycling rates of other countries. So far the efforts of industry have made progress but that work simply has not been as effective as it can be and more work is needed.
Alcoa appreciates all efforts designed to increase recycling rates and actively partners with community leaders and other industry partners dedicated to this cause. To learn more about Alcoa and aluminum recycling or to tell your recycling story, please visit www.alcoarecycling.com.