Recycling is essential to the modern aluminum business. Increasing aluminum recycling translates to less energy used and a lower carbon impact. Recycled aluminum is around 95% less energy-intensive to produce than new aluminum. And aluminum can be recycled infinitely. That’s why 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today.
Aluminum Recycling Agenda
Aluminum cans have a higher recycling rate and more recycled content than competing package types. Since 1972, more than 2 trillion cans have been recycled. They are lightweight, stackable and strong, allowing brands to package and transport more beverages using less material. The aluminum can remains by far the most valuable beverage package in the recycling bin, with a value of $991/ton compared to $205/ton for PET and a negative value of $23/ton for glass, based on a two-year rolling average through February 2021. It helps make municipal recycling programs financially viable and effectively subsidizes the recycling of less valuable materials in the bin.
Most of all, aluminum cans are most often recycled over and over again in a circular recycling process. When recycled, glass and plastic are often turned into a different product that is not recyclable or is unlikely to be recycled again. For example, a PET bottle might end up as carpet fiber or a t-shirt. Aluminum cans, meanwhile, can be recycled infinitely to make new cans.
Aluminum cans are the most sustainable beverage packaging type in virtually every way. Yet aging infrastructure and changes in the marketplace have pushed aluminum can recycling rates in recent years down below 50%. Responsible, comprehensive and sensible consumer recycling policy is needed to reverse this trend.
The Aluminum Association supports:
- Passage of HR 6159 and HR 4040: At a minimum, the association calls on Congress to take stock of the nation’s recycling capabilities through a Government Accountability Office study.
- Well-designed container deposit laws: Maintain container deposit programs in states where they have proven effective in raising recycling rates and encourage states (or the federal government) to adopt well-designed deposit programs elsewhere. The aluminum industry relies disproportionately on states with container deposit laws – where recycling rates are typically at least twice the rate of non-deposit states – as a source of high-quality and high-volume aluminum can scrap.
- Pay-as-you-throw programs: Properly reflect the cost of wasting natural resources and discarding recyclable materials like aluminum by implementing pay-as-you-throw programs.
- Landfill Bans: Consider well-designed landfill ban policies as part of a comprehensive recycling strategy. Aluminum is not trash. And yet, billions of aluminum cans end up in landfills each year. This is not only bad for the environment but also represents the loss of material needed for resilient manufacturing supply chains.
- Landfill Tipping Fee Adjustments: Implement policies that increase landfill tipping fees to better reflect the market value of materials being sent to landfills. Recycling policies should properly recognize the true cost of burying valuable natural resources to the extent possible.
The aluminum recycling rate in most industrial markets – like transportation or building & construction – exceeds 90%. Industry recycling efforts in the U.S. save more than 90 million barrels of oil equivalent each year. To meet increased demand for aluminum in the 21st century, shore up domestic supply chains and address energy and climate challenges, the industry must increase scrap recovery even further and continue the necessary innovation to use secondary aluminum in more applications.
The Aluminum Association supports:
- Increased research and development (R&D) investment for recycling infrastructure, especially those technologies that improve the quality of aluminum scrap by sorting recyclable materials and segregating alloys.
- Innovation to expand use of recycled aluminum: Leverage public-private partnership like the Department of Energy’s Critical Materials Institute and the REMADE Institute, to maximize the use of recycled aluminum. Provide grants or research partnerships to better utilize scrap material and develop innovative alloys with higher recycled content.
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Infinitely recyclable, uniquely sustainable.
More than 90% of the aluminum used in cars, buildings, airplanes and similar industrial products is recycled. Additionally, consumer products like beverage containers are recycled at far higher rates than competing packages such as glass, plastic bottles or multi-layer composite containers. But we must do more to bring back the more than $800 million of recyclable aluminum that goes to landfills each year.
U.S. Aluminum Can Recycling Counter
Each year, the U.S. aluminum industry recycles billions of used aluminum beverage cans. In fact, since the industry starting tracking recycling in 1972, we've recycled more than 2 trillion cans. Here's how many cans we've recycled so far this year.