North America recycles just 52% of the aluminum cans consumed each year, allowing about 700,000 metric tons to go to waste, according to Alcoa, a major player in the aluminum industry.
That's below the world average of 60%, and well below national leaders like Japan and Brazil, which recycle nearly every can produced. What's worse, the recycling rate has fallen steadily since 1992, when 68% of aluminum cans were recycled.
Alcoa wants to see recycling increase to 75% by 2015, and it is putting $22 million into the effort at a Tennessee recycling plant.
The aluminum industry must work together for common sustainability goals that transcend individual commercial objectives, and we must approach this with a sense of urgency. Its all about recapturing this pool of energy before it is lost to the landfill, said Greg Wittbecker, Alcoas Director Corporate Metal Recycling Strategy, in a call-for-action presentation to aluminum industry leaders during the Platts Aluminum Symposium. Recycled aluminum requires 95 percent less energy to produce and can be recycled a multitude of times.
Wittbecker cited several reasons why recycling has fallen in North America, including inconvenient collection systems, technology stagnation in coated scrap processing and commercial objectives that have not been aligned with recycling.
Another reason could be the growth in the market for non-carbonated beverages that are packaged in cans. These beverages are not included in many states' recycling laws, so they don't enjoy the benefit of a five- or ten-cent deposit, which encourages people to recycle. In New York, for instance, the beverage industry has held back legislation for years that would expand the kinds of beverages that have a five-cent deposit.
Recycling requires one-twentieth the energy of manufacturing a can from virgin materials, and the aluminum used in cans can be recycled with near-100% efficiency. Recycling more cans could save enough electricity to shut down two coal-fired power plants, according to Alcoa.
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