The aluminum can is a package built for the circular economy
. A used beverage can (UBC) serves as a “technical nutrient” as it is returned to the material stream as feedstock at the end of its useful life. Aluminum cans are recycled over and over again in a closed loop process. Aluminum is also by far the most valuable material in the recycling bin
on a per ton basis. Since many municipal recycling programs rely on re-selling collected material to subsidize their efforts, it is no exaggeration to say that many of these programs would not be financially viable without the aluminum scrap stream.
The particular value of aluminum should be recognized in state and municipal recycling policy.
While the amount of recycled content in the average aluminum can far exceeds competitive packaging types, there is room for significant improvement in the aluminum can recycling rate.
The aluminum industry’s ultimate goal is to recycle every can that’s produced.
Responsible, comprehensive and sensible recycling policy is needed to achieve this goal. The Aluminum Association and its members have invested in research, outreach, education and program development for decades to help municipalities implement effective recycling programs. The aluminum industry supports recycling programs that not only place value on recycling as a whole, but also recognize the inherent value in the aluminum can.
Following are the Aluminum Association’s positions on a number of specific recycling policy prescriptions:
- Container Deposit Laws: The aluminum industry has documented the high quality and quantity of recycled beverage cans reclaimed from states with deposit legislation. An analysis by environmental research firm Circular Matters showed that while the ten U.S. deposit states represent about a quarter of all can consumption, they represent more than one-third of all cans recycled each year. Recycling rates for aluminum cans average more than 80 percent in states with deposit laws as compared to 40 percent in states without such laws. The material returned is also of far better quality, making recycling easier and more economical. The aluminum can industry supports a set of “best practice” principles for effective deposit programs. Learn more.
- Pay-As-You-Throw: The Aluminum Association supports recycling systems that assign value to recyclable materials and that properly reflect the cost of wasting natural resources. Encouraging consumers to recycle more and waste less achieves a higher level of aluminum diversion. The industry supports pay as you throw (PAYT) policies that assign fees and other incentives to encourage recycling. The industry also recognizes the importance of protecting material quality in a PAYT environment, as well as the importance of environmental equity to ensure that economically disadvantaged segments of the population are not negatively affected.
- Landfill Bans: Each year in the United States around $800 million worth of aluminum cans end up in landfills. This wasted value represents a loss to the environment and the overall economy. Cans aren’t trash. Used beverage cans are a valuable raw material stream for the aluminum industry, and the Aluminum Association supports legislation that keeps post-consumer used beverage cans out of landfills. Landfill bans like those passed in North Carolina and Wisconsin achieve the specific goal of constituent awareness, and the broader goal of material diversion. Such bans should be considered as part of comprehensive recycling policies that route valuable material back into the circular economy.
- Landfill Tipping Fee Adjustments: In line with other policies that properly recognize the true cost of burying valuable natural resources, we support state efforts to increase low tipping fees and surcharges, and support efforts to use those funds to bolster recycling infrastructure and increase aluminum can recovery.