Last Year More Than 45 Billion Aluminum Cans Did Not Get Recycled

News Release
April 22, 1999


CONTACT: Pat Franklin, 703/276-9800
Executive Director

Last Year More Than 45 Billion Aluminum Cans Did Not Get Recycled

Last year Americans recycled 56 billion and discarded a record 46 billion cans

ARLINGTON, VA (April 22, 1999) -- The Container Recycling Institute (CRI), a nonprofit research group reports that since the first Earth Day Americans have landfilled more than 750 billion aluminum beverage cans."Despite the high value of aluminum can scrap," said Pat Franklin, Executive Director of CRI, "the recycling rate for aluminum cans dropped to 56 percent in 1998, its lowest point in ten years."

"Falling recycling rates for aluminum cans - the premier recyclable - and other scrap materials, is not a great Earth Day birthday present," Franklin said. CRI's data reveals that of the 102 billion aluminum cans sold in the U.S. last year, an estimated 56 billion cans were recycled and a record number of cans -- 46 billion -- ended up in landfills.

"The tens of billions of aluminum cans landfilled last year are just part of a much bigger 'waste' picture," said Franklin. "Mining, obtaining energy for refining and the refining process itself have enormous environmental impact." She pointed out that it takes the same amount of energy to make one new aluminum can from raw materials as it does to make four new cans from scrap cans.

CRI's research shows that while the national recycling rate for aluminum cans has dropped to 56 percent, the average recycling rate for aluminum cans and other beverage containers is 80 percent or higher in states where these containers have a deposit value of a nickel or a dime and below 50 percent in other states. "The five or ten-cent incentive keeps bottles and cans off of streets and beaches and out of landfills in Michigan, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Oregon, Maine, Vermont and Iowa. Even in California where beverage cans have a 2.5 cent value, the recycling rate for aluminum cans was 75 percent last year."

Franklin says she recognizes and applauds the aluminum can manufacturing industry's successful efforts at source reduction by reducing the weight of aluminum cans by 40 percent over the past twenty years. "While I don't doubt their commitment to the environment, it is a fact that can manufacturers realize huge energy savings by making new cans out of used cans. This cost savings is the primary motivation."

Noting that the aluminum can recycling rate is lower than it was in 1990, when curbside recycling was in its infancy, she said, "It should be obvious, by now that we cannot rely on the curbside recycling infrastructure to boost recycling rates for aluminum cans. It would appear that the only way to get the recycling rate above 70 percent is through a deposit return system."

Franklin said a National Bottle Bill was introduced in Congress today by Sen. James Jeffords (R-VT) that would require a 10-cent deposit on aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers. Jefford's bill would exempt any state that can show they are recycling their beverage containers at a rate of 70 percent or higher within a year after enactment.

"With the huge decline in beverage container recycling, the time may just be ripe for a national bottle bill," Franklin said. "Without it, we can look forward to reaching the trillion mark for aluminum cans landfilled by Earth Day 2004."