Americans Trashed 50 Billion Aluminum Beverage Cans in 2001

July 9, 2002
Contact: Jenny Gitlitz, Author and Dir. or Rsch.
Pat Franklin, Executive Director

Americans Trashed 50 Billion Aluminum Beverage Cans in 2001

Report Details Serious Global Environmental Consequences

WASHINGTON, DC (July 9, 2002) -- The Container Recycling Institute (CRI), a non-profit research group, released a new report today titled "Trashed Cans: The Global Environmental Impacts of Aluminum Can Wasting in America." The report details the global environmental impacts of replacing 50 billion wasted cans each year with new cans made from virgin materials.

"This can wasting represents a tremendous lost opportunity to save energy and resources," said the report's author, Jenny Gitlitz. "The energy required to replace the 50 billion cans trashed last year was equivalent to 16 million barrels of crude oil--enough to meet the electricity needs of all the homes in Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Seattle and San Francisco."

According to the report, over half of the 100 billion cans sold in the United States in 2001 were not recycled and last year's 49% aluminum can recycling rate dropped to its lowest in 15 years. The report states that 33,764 Boeing 737 jets could have been built with the 759,625 tons of aluminum wasted in 2001. Aluminum can waste last year was 28% more than a decade ago (594,420 tons).

"The public often views the aluminum can as 'environmentally friendly' due to its recyclability," Gitlitz said, "but just because something is recyclable, it doesn't always follow that it is recycled. In the case of aluminum cans, for every six-pack of beer or soda cans recycled, another six-pack ends up in a landfill."

"Most people are unaware of the many adverse environmental impacts that aluminum production entails, and that aluminum wasting exacerbates," she said, citing environmental impacts that included air and water pollution, the emission of millions of tons of greenhouse gases, the loss of habitat from mining bauxite and hydroelectric energy production, and the disruption of human settlements in many different countries.

Gitlitz's remarks were echoed by Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The squandering of hundreds of thousands of tons of valuable, energy intensive aluminum each year is a national disgrace with global implications. Decision-makers at every level of government.should review this report and take action promptly to compel manufacturers to take responsibility for their impositions and reverse this unacceptable environmental and economic disgrace."

John Passacantando, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA said, "The innocent looking aluminum can truly leaves a global imprint. The lesson: convenience comes with a price and a responsibility. Now more than ever, recycling mandates for aluminum and other waste should clearly be a part of the national energy policy."

According to the report, the rising tide of can waste is due primarily to a decreasing financial incentive to recycle aluminum cans. "The value of a pound of aluminum cans to folks who collect scrap cans for cash hasn't changed much in the past decade, but the value of a dollar has declined," said Gitlitz.

"People are also drinking more beverages on the go, away from the convenience of residential curbside recycling bins, and many of these cans are ending up in the garbage," Gitlitz said. "Consumers in the ten U.S. states with bottle bills, on the other hand, have a 2.5�-10� incentive to recycle, and they are able to achieve recycling rates of 70% to 95%."

"This report paints a vivid picture of the alarming environmental impacts of this 'throwaway' package," said CRI Executive Director Pat Franklin. "We hope it will motivate policymakers and environmental advocates to take steps to eliminate the needless wasting of energy and material resources embedded in the billions of cans wasted in America each year."

On July 11th, Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vermont) will hold a committee hearing on recycling, including a discussion of his own bill: S. 2220, the Beverage Producer Responsibility Act of 2002. The Act would require all beverage containers except milk to have a 10-cent deposit, and be recycled at a rate of 80%.

"The recycling rate for our most recyclable material has dropped below the 50% mark. A national recycling policy is needed to reverse this egregious waste of energy and resources", said Senator Jeffords from his Washington office, where he chairs the Committee on Environment and Public Works. "Ten states have demonstrated the effectiveness of refundable deposits in achieving high recycling rates; it's time to replicate their success at the national level."

Gitlitz said that passage of the Jeffords bill could enable the national aluminum can recycling rate to climb above 85%, as it has in Sweden and several Canadian provinces, where similar legislation exists. "A national deposit law has the potential to recycle 36 billion more cans than we do today, saving the additional energy equivalent of 11 million barrels of crude oil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 2 million tons, and reducing countless environmental impacts around the world."

The report "Trashed Cans: The Global Environmental Impacts of Aluminum Can Wasting in America" can be ordered from the Container Recycling Institute by phone or on the web at:




Scroll To Top