The infinitely recyclable aluminum can ranks high for sustainability

Aluminum can recycling

Aluminum cans are the shiny face of successful recycling. In fact, they’re the “most sustainable beverage package on virtually every measure,” according to a report by two industry groups. “The Aluminum Can Advantage — Key Sustainability Performance Indicators for the Aluminum Can,” was released last year by the Aluminum Association and the Can Manufacturers Institute.

Aluminums cans are infinitely recyclable. They can be back on the shelf as a new product in just 60 days after entering the recycling system. And they’re worth more to recyclers, too — almost 300 percent more per ton, in fact, than plastic or glass.

“When a city takes trash to recover recyclable goodies,” explains Mark E. Schlesinger, a professor of metals at Missouri University of Science and Technology, “cans are 1.5 to 2 percent of the trash but 25 to 30 percent of income they receive coming back.” Aluminum can recycling is a great financial resource for municipal recycling programs because of the high return for cans compared to other recyclables.

A few statistics from the report shed light on how crucial aluminum cans are for recycling:

  • The aluminum industry recycles two cans for every three it ships in the United States.
  • The industry recycling rate in 2014 was 66.5 percent — that’s 59.3 billion aluminum cans that avoided the landfill.
  • The aluminum can recycling rate for consumers went up nearly two points, to 56.7 percent, in 2014.
  • Aluminum cans are the most recycled beverage container in the U.S.
  • Many aluminum cans get turned right back into aluminum cans. An aluminum can contains more than three times (approximately 70 percent) the recycled content of a glass or plastic beverage container.
  • Compared to new aluminum production, it takes only 8 percent of the energy to produce aluminum from recycled material.

The report also points out that at least 40 billion cans — or $800 million worth of aluminum — are still being dumped into landfills every year.