In the year 2004, 100.5 billion aluminum beverage cans were sold for domestic consumption. Of this, 55.0 billion were not recycled. The volume of wasted aluminum beverage cans has increased by 760% since 1972, when 6 billion cans were wasted.
The Swedes have an impressive over 80% aluminum can recycling rate, which makes our US efforts look comparatively weak, at a rate of under 50% that's been backsliding from a high of almost 60% in 1992. Let's get with it!
Recycling Rate for PET Plastic Bottles in Sweden and U.S. (1984-2004)
Side-by-side comparison of Sweden and U.S. recycling rates for both aluminum and plastic
Curbside recycling expanded dramatically in the nineties, growing from 2,711 programs in 1990 to 9,257 programs in 1999. During that period, the number of Americans served by curbside recycling increased from 37 million to 133 million. The population with access to curbside recycling continued to grow, though at a slower pace, throughout the remainder of the decade - from 41.5 percent in 1994 to 48.8 percent in 1999. Despite this growth in 'at home' recycling opportunities, rates for aluminum cans, glass containers and PET bottles -- standard items in most curbside programs - declined. The rate for aluminum can recycling reached a high of 65% in 1992, but dropped to 55% in 1999. The glass container rate (not including refillable bottles) reached a high of 33.4% in 1995, but slipped to 31.4% in 1999. After reaching a high of 37.5% in 1994 the PET plastic bottle recycling rate plummeted to 22.8% in 1999.
The U.S. aluminum can recycling rate dropped to 45.1% in the year 2004— twenty percentage points below the 1992 peak of 65%.
NOTE: Recycling rates have been adjusted to reflect imported used beverage cans recycled in the U.S. but not produced or sold 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.” For an explanation of how these rates were calculated, please see our "Calculating Aluminum Recycling Rates" page.