Calculating Aluminum Can Recycling Rate

Calculating the Aluminum Can Recycling Rate

CRI's methodology for calculating the aluminum can recycling rate differs from that employed by the Aluminum Association, an industry trade organization. In computing the UBC recycling rate, which is derived by dividing the number of cans recycled by the number of cans sold (i.e., those available for recycling), the Aluminum Association includes domestic and imported scrap cans in the numerator, but only domestically-produced (and sold) new cans in the denominator. This methodology produces an artificially high recycling rate because it includes cans which were not originally sold on the U.S. market. By deducting the 11.4 billion imported scrap cans from the numerator, CRI has derived a domestic recycling rate of 54.2% for 2011.

Before 1990, so few scrap cans were imported from abroad that their inclusion in the numerator did not significantly affect the recycling rate derived. In 1991, just 2 billion scrap cans were imported only 2.2% of the number of cans sold domestically. By 2011, however, that number had grown to 11.4 billion imported scrap cans, or over 12% of the number of cans sold domestically.

In other words, the effective gap between the recycling rate derived by the Aluminum Association and that derived by CRI is much wider now than it was in 1991, even though the recycling rates for 1991 and 2011 are very similar according to the Aluminum Association (62.4% and 65.1% respectively).

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 more impactful factor to the overall recycling rate in the United States.

In a letter dated April 7, 1999, Elizabeth Cotsworth, Acting Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Solid Waste wrote, "the methodology suggested by the Container Recycling Institute in determining aluminum can recycling rates is consistent with the recycling measurement methodology used by the EPA."  The EPA has also amended their own recycling statistics accordingly.

Calculating the 2011 Used Aluminum Can Recycling Rate


The Aluminum Association method:

Weight of scrap cans collected
(includes exported and imported UBCs):
1,762 million pounds
Multiplied by the average number of cans per pound: 34.6
cans per pound  
Equals the number of cans recycled (includes cans exported for recycling): 60.9 billion cans (numerator)
Divided by the number of new cans [made and] shipped [in U.S.]: 93.6 billion cans (denominator)
  The UBC Recycling Rate:
  Cans collected [recycled] 60.9 =
  Cans shipped 93.6 65.1%

The Container Recycling Institute/
Environmental Protection Agency method:

The number of collected cans recycled domestically and exported: 60.9 billion cans  
Minus the number of imported scrap cans: 11.4 billion cans  
Equals the # of cans recycled that were sold in the U.S.: 49.5 billion cans (numerator)
New cans made and shipped in the U.S.: 93.6 billion cans  
Plus new imported unfilled cans: 1.4* billion cans  
Minus new exported unfilled cans: 3.7* billion cans  
Equals the # of cans available for recycling in the U.S.: 91.3 billion cans (denominator)
  The UBC Recycling Rate:
Cans recycled that were originally sold in the U.S. 49.5 =
Domestic cans available for recycling: 91.3 54.2%

*The most current statistics available for these figures is from 2010.