Recycling Aluminum Cans

Aluminum cans and aluminum packaging are everywhere in our everyday lives. In every corner of the world.Aluminum Cans

Did you ever think that aluminum cans are the most recyclable item across everything you routinely recycle?

The simple gesture of properly disposing of an empty can is one of the effective and easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint and another way step towards to a more sustainable lifestyle.  It is pretty simple actually.

In an earlier posting, we discussed the energy savings of avoiding the use of plastic grocery bags and shifting over to reusable shopping bags.  Basically it was a message to avoid and convert.  Not so, with aluminum cans.  If you consume it, the product is effectively melted and reused.  Plastics do not have this advantage.

For aluminum cans, the key to energy and carbon output savings is realized by shifting a higher percentage of these cans into the recycling system.   Industry experts estimate that only about half of the cans are recycled every year.  The other half is lost in our landfills – maybe 50 billion cans….

Aluminum cans are by far the single most efficient item to recycle and actually subsidize the cost of recycling the other items in the municipal recycling streams.  Many of us already recycle aluminum cans at home and even at our workplace, church, schools.

Every day, more and more municipalities are setting up separate public recycling collection cans next to the public trash bins around our towns and in public parts.  But on a worldwide scale, a large percentage of these cans still don’t make it into the recycling stream.

Why Recycling Aluminum Cans Is Important

According to Novelis, the global leader in aluminum rolled products and aluminum can recycling, this company alone recycled 40 billion used beverage cans in 2009,  a little less than half of the 96 billion cans produced last year.

The recycling materials that this one company processed saved 13 million barrels of oil, avoided 5 million tons of greenhouse gasses, the equivalent of taking more than 900,000 cars off the road for an entire year.  Plus if you dispose of it correctly, the current recycling stream is so efficient that it will be converted into a new can and back on the shelf in as little as 60 days.

We’ve all seen aluminum cans in the gutters and in public trash cans, but consider the upside environmental gain of recycling each can.  Producing an aluminum can from recycled aluminum takes only 5% of the energy of producing the can from aluminum ore.  These energy savings actions are worth about 400-watt hours, which could power you inefficient incandescent light bulb for four hours; power you LED or CFL for several days; run your flat screen TV for a couple hours; or propel your car for about a mile.

Smashed Cube of Aluminum Cans

The Impact of Recycling Aluminum Cans

Say for example, next week, if everyone in the United States recycled one additional can that would of otherwise end up in the trash,  the small widespread, but powerful token, would be equivalent to the energy in 70,000 barrels of oil, which coincidentally is the minimum amount of oil estimated to be spilling into the gulf every two weeks.

So, next time you consider not recycling an aluminum can, out of convenience or the next time you see a can in the trash remember how much energy savings and greenhouse gas avoidance that single can represents.  Make sure it finds its way into a recycling bin.

Getting your hands dirty and picking up a few cans and disposing of them,  is another effective way you and your family can make a positive environmental carbon savings impact.  

Or, contact your local government and ask them to set out more recycling collection bins in public areas.


About the author

Keith Blizzard

A life-long environmentalist, Keith set out on the never ending journey of adjusting his lifestyle to a more sustainable one, with a goal of annually shrinking his carbon footprint. When he looked around for a dependable source of meaningful carbon footprint reduction ideas, it was pretty lame - so he launched Green Blizzard loaded with eco-friendly lifestyle tweaks. When he's not managing Green Blizzard, you'll find him on the trails around Mid Coast Maine with his trusty trail companion mutt, Moose.