Aluminum Can Recycling Rate Hits Lowest Point In Six Years

News Release

Container Recycling Institute
1911 Ft. Myer Drive, Suite 900
Arlington, Virginia 22209
703/276-9800 fax 276-9587

FOR RELEASE: March 31, 1996

CONTACT: Pat Franklin
202/797-6839

Aluminum Can Recycling Rate Hits Lowest Point In Six Years

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 31) --The aluminum can recycling rate dropped to 62.2% last year, its lowest point in six years, according to the Container Recycling Institute (CRI), a non-profit, research and public education organization. CRI's Acting Director, Pat Franklin, acknowledged the aluminum industry's success in lightweighting aluminum cans which now weigh just over one-half ounce each, but called the drop in the recycling rate from 65% in 1994 to 62% in 1995, "a giant step backwards." She pointed out that despite aggressive efforts to recover aluminum used beverage cans (UBC) last year, Richmond, VA-based Reynolds Metals Co., one of the largest recyclers of UBC in the nation, recycled 1.6 billion fewer cans in 1995 than in 1994.

The Institute, which analyzes container and packaging generation and recovery data, compared the numbers released today by the Aluminum Association and the Can Manufacturers Institute, to recycling data collected over the past 20 years. "For the eleventh consecutive year Americans threw away over 30 billion aluminum cans weighing more than 500,000 tons," said Franklin. "In those eleven years we have landfilled or burned over 370 billion aluminum cans."

"We trashed a record 38 billion aluminum cans in 1995, 4 billion more than the previous year. This can hardly be called progress," said Franklin. "The tens of billions of aluminum cans we discard each year represent much more than the tons they weigh, cubic yards of landfill space they occupy or the miles of countryside they litter. These containers, that so exemplify our throwaway mentality," she continued, "represent a wealth of energy and resources squandered."

According to CRI, we could have recycled most of the 38 billion cans that weren't recycled. Their research shows that about 95% of aluminum cans are beer and soda cans, and 75% of all packaged beer and soft drinks are in aluminum cans. CRI maintains that the impressive strides in aluminum can recycling in the 70's and 80's, were due primarily to passage of beverage container deposit legislation in nine states, and to the aluminum industry's efforts to buy back aluminum cans, which have a relatively high scrap value.

"Aluminum beverage cans are recovered at rates of 85% in nine states, where they have a deposit value ranging from 2.5 to 10 cents," said Franklin. "Without those high recovery rates, we estimate that the national recycling rate for aluminum cans would be closer to 50%."

The deposit programs in place in the U.S. have been mandated by government, but Franklin points out that there are deposit programs in other countries that have been initiated by industry. "Sweden's deposit program resulted from a government requirement that aluminum cans reach a minimum recycling rate, and the aluminum industry, in order to attain that rate, initiated a deposit system," said Franklin. "In contrast to our 62% recycling rate, Sweden's aluminum can recycling rate exceeds 90%.

"We simply cannot rely on curbside recycling to boost the recycling rate," said Franklin. "In 1989, there were just over 1,000 curbside recycling programs and the aluminum can recycling rate was at 61%. In 1995, with over 7,000 curbside programs, the recycling rate for aluminum cans was still at only 62%. The 600% increase in the number of curbside programs has had almost no impact on the rate of recovery of aluminum cans."

"The deposit/refund system is the only way to reach recovery rates of 75% and higher," said Franklin. "We do not see the aluminum can recycling rate reaching 70% by the year 2000, unless one or two large states pass deposit laws, or the industry initiates a nationwide deposit system," she concluded.

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