Yes, that’s every second of every minute of every day – Americans throw 1,500 aluminum cans in the trash every second. Not recycle – throw away. Back in the 1990’s, we actually recycled more than 60% of our aluminum cans, but now we are only recycling 51.1%! Why is the recycling rate actually declining as more and more people are looking to “go green”?
As of this writing, over 23 BILLION beverage containers have been put into landfills this year. Why landfills? The Institute says it is a because a combination of our “on-the-go” lifestyle and communities’ lack of public recycling bins has left us holding a container…with nowhere to put it. Thus, we throw it in the trash. And according to E Magazine, we threw away 11 billion cans in the 1970’s, 29 billion a year in the 1980’s, 35 billion a year in the 1990’s, and 46 billion a year since 2000.
photo by by Kain Road Cul de Sac
The Container Recycling Institute, aside from talking about recycling statistics, also talks about the “dirt” behind the aluminum can. I didn’t know that:
1 ton of cans produces 5 tons of caustic waste – Each ton of aluminum cans requires 5 tons of bauxite ore to be strip-mined, crushed, washed, and refined into alumina before it is smelted, creating about 5 tons of caustic red mud residue which can seep into surface and groundwater. People and animals have suffered from the effects of bauxite mining in Jamaica, Brazil, Australia, and other tropical areas, she noted.
3% of the world’s electricity goes into making aluminum cans – While aluminum companies often cite tremendous savings from recycling aluminum, they fail to mention that at current wasting levels, about 23 billion kilowatt-hours are squandered globally each year through ‘replacement production.’ About 7 kWh are saved per pound (33 cans) recycled. Had the 50 billion trashed cans been recycled, the electricity saved could power 1.3 million American homes. In total, the industry’s annual electricity consumption is almost 300 billion kilowatt-hours, or about 3% of the world’s total electricity consumption.
Hydroelectric plants for aluminum production ruin habitats and lives – According to the International Aluminum Institute, about a third of the primary aluminum produced worldwide uses coal-generated electricity, 10% relies on oil and natural gas-fired electricity generation, 5% is nuclear powered, and about half uses hydroelectricity (dams). These dams flood vast tracts of land in some places and desiccate it in others, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem, threatening biodiversity, and forcing thousands of humans to leave their homes.
Aluminum smelters release greenhouse gases and toxic emissions – About 95 million tons of greenhouse gases were produced by the global aluminum industry in 2005. Primary aluminum smelting also generates sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, which are contributors to smog and acid rain. In 2005, 50.7 billion U.S. cans were wasted, resulting in the emission of 75,000 tons of SOx and NOx.
There has to be a better way of getting people to recycle the aluminum cans that they use. Sure, getting more people to switch to reusable bottles for things like water and juice is a start, but drinks like soda and beer are not going to taste so great if you pour it into your container in the morning and drink it later. Yuck. I am no scientist, but there has to be a way to make it work. When they introduced the $.05 bottle bill when I was a kid, I think that made people recycle for a while because it was a new tax and people did not want to pay a nickel for a can – they wanted their money back. But what is a nickel now? Maybe we should charge a $.50 premium on each aluminum can sold in this country – I bet people would recycle them at that price point
As a closing fact, did you know that 1 year’s worth of America’s trashed cans would provide enough aluminum to make more than 8,000 747’s. Not that air travel is going to last too much longer into the future without drastic changes in the industry, but still – 8,000 747’s from just the cans we throw away? Amazing. We can do better!