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29. June 2007

51.9 Billion Aluminum Cans Recycled in ’06

Trade associations emphasize "value" in can recycling

In a joint release, The Aluminum Association, Can Manufacturers Institute, and Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries report that the number of aluminum cans recycled in the U.S. in 2006 rose to 51.9 billion — 500 million more than were recycled in 2005.

Using a formula that divides the number of cans collected by the number of cans formed per pound of aluminum, and dividing that total (51.9 billion) by the number of cans shipped in 2006 (100.6 billion), the trade groups report that the the total percentage of aluminum cans recycled declined to 51.6% in 2006, from 52.0% in 2005.

The recycling rate for used beverage cans has been in decline for most of the past 12 years, according to records kept by the three groups. The recent peak was the 66.5% recycling rate achieved in 1997, while the low point was the 50% reached in 2003. The rates had increased in 2004 (51.2%) and 2005 (52.0%) before the 2006 dip (51.6%) — though there are complex factors at work. For example, the number of cans yielded by each pound of aluminum has steadily increased — from 31.07 cans/pound in 1995, to 31.21 cans/pound in 2006.

In addition, the aluminum beverage-can market has been adversely impacted in the past decade by polyethelene terephthalate (PET) bottles, and other packaging options. This development, some have speculated, has discouraged widespread aluminum can recycling in recent years. Municipal recycling regulations remain the most consistent route for recovering the raw material, and the trade groups have promoted such efforts through their Curbside Value Partnership program. However, some recycling authorities say that states and municipalities undermine the metal recovery effort by combining curbside recycling with deposit laws.

However, the three trade groups emphasize that for over 20 years aluminum beverage cans have been "the most recycled consumer beverage product in the U.S.": 100.6 billion cans were produced in 2006, which resulted in 1.52 billion pounds of recycled aluminum.

The group's statement goes on to list a series of value propositions to aluminum-recycling, including the fact that every can is entirely recyclable; that the process of collection and reprocessing is more than recovered by the value of the metal; and that 40 recycled aluminum beverage cans are the energy-conserving equivalent of one gallon of gasoline.

"The aluminum can is the most valuable packaging material to recycle," stated Patrick M. Franc, chairman of The Aluminum Association and president of ARCO Aluminum Inc. “The practice of recycling aluminum cans provides environmental, economic, and social benefits to communities and organizations across the country.”

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